Is questioning authority out of the question?
August 29, 2007
Several people have been critical of me for questioning the CHP’s handling of the Fanny Bridge closure during the Washoe Fire. In their calls for empathy for the officer involved they saw fit to disparage me for reporting exactly what happened.
The truth can be a dangerous thing. Hopefully, questioning authority is still safe around here.
One of the e-mails I received said the officer had been told to stop traffic at all costs so fire-fighting efforts would not be hampered by traffic congestion, and because other officers were spread too thin evacuating people and performing other important tasks.
Under those circumstances, what the officer actually did deserves even more serious and critical scrutiny than what I can provide here. I would have done things quite differently if my orders were to close the road and only allow emergency
vehicles through, especially if all I had was my car and my body to do it with.
Let me explain once more what happened. I was there. I saw the entire thing.
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There was a CHP patrol car directly in front of Fanny Bridge at the No Pedestrian Crossing on the north side of the bridge, effectively making the bridge inaccessible to any and all traffic coming from Tahoe City. Suddenly the officer drove his car away from that ideal location to a less effective location and stopped, partially blocking the lane in front of what used to be Radio Shack. The officer then got out of his car, walked around the island at the wye in front of the Dam Cafe, turned left, facing Albertsons, and began yelling and screaming at motorists coming from Tahoe City toward the bridge. Meanwhile, behind him, dozens of cars drove around his patrol car and crossed the bridge.
One officer cannot be in two places at the same time. He tried, but CHP officers are only human. For that reason alone I did feel quite sorry for the man.
The fact is, there is only one place at the Tahoe City wye where a lone officer could have possibly been successful at carrying out orders to stop southbound traffic and still allow emergency vehicles through. That position is directly in front of Fanny Bridge on the north side, the position he vacated.
And that is where Highway 89 was closed, in the only logical place it could have been closed, right smack dab at Fanny Bridge, where the officer’s car originally was. The fact that they chose that precise location to close the bridge gives my questioning of the incident all the credibility it needs. So far, no one has answered the question.
What better place than a bridge to make your stand? In war they defend bridges or blow them up. Bridges are control magnets.
I don’t know why there was a problem. All I know is, there was a problem, and it was most likely a communication problem. We can hide it. We can sweep it under the carpet. We can cover it up and pretend it never happened. Or we can figure out why it happened and make sure we make improvements and do better in the future. No law enforcement agency wants to be seen screaming and yelling unnecessarily at respectable, law abiding citizens legally going about their daily business. I hope I never see it again.
We don’t have to yell and scream at people to get them to do what we want them to do. All one has to do is pick the right spot and project a commanding presence. That is not hard to do with a uniform and a gun. It can even be done with a smile, and should be.
In an emergency it is our job to help one another, not frighten each other and make matters worse. An awareness of the value of our fellow citizens is why we respond to emergencies in the first place, or it should be. It is the cornerstone of a truly professional attitude. If we lose our cool in an emergency situation, we could lose everything.