When Cops Can't Use Lights and Sirens

Sometimes police officers need to get from one place to another more quickly than traffic conditions will allow, which is why the cars they drive are equipped with sirens and bright flashing lights.

“But, Dunphy,” you say, “why write about something so patently obvious? Any fool knows that.”

No, there are in fact some fools who do not know that. Strangely enough, one such fool is a former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department who now sits on the Los Angeles City Council.

I refer to Bernard Parks, who served as LAPD chief for five years before being asked to turn in his cards in 2002, clearing the way for the appointment of current chief William Bratton. After being shown the exit at the police department, Parks ran for and won a seat on the city council, from which position he seems to take inordinate glee in throwing sand in the gears of the organization that sent him packing. The latest example of this is particularly egregious, given how it places police officers and the public in danger.

On April 1, in a display of common sense sadly rare in the LAPD’s upper echelons, the department enacted new rules governing when officers may drive Code 3, i.e., with lights and sirens. Under the former guidelines, only one police unit was permitted to drive Code 3 to an emergency call; all additional responding units were expected to punctiliously observe the traffic laws, even if it took all day to get to the call. So, even when an incident required several officers to properly handle it, those who responded Code 3 arrived quickly but were expected to wait as their fellow officers idled at every red light along the way. Officers were even prohibited from driving Code 3 when responding to a fellow officer’s request for backup. Only in the very rare instance of an “officer needs help” call was a single unit dispatched Code 3, while all the others responding were to proceed as traffic and traffic lights would allow.

Given the general state of traffic in Los Angeles and the great distances officers must sometimes travel, such rules were widely seen as nonsense among the rank and file, and they were just as widely ignored. Most supervisors understood this. When I was a young cop starting out with the LAPD, any supervisor who insisted on strict adherence to these rules might come to work one day to find a live chicken -- and the excretions therefrom -- in his locker.