LINNDALE, Ohio — Picture this, a cop appearing to text while driving, something drivers like you and I can’t do in the State of Ohio.
Police and other first responders are exempt to this law, but many think strict policies should be in place as to when these workers should be using their cell phones.
Linndale is the smallest village in Cuyahoga County, home to 179 people. Despite its size, the community has earned a quite a reputation.
“When you think of Linndale, Dave, what do you think of,” a Cleveland resident was asked recently. He replied “speed trap.” Another resident gave the same response.
Linndale officers patrol a quarter-mile stretch of I-71 and rake in tens of thousands of dollars a year in fines.
Officials of this tiny town say they are just making sure speeders and unsafe drivers are off the road.
But a Cleveland man, who was recently ticketed for having a fictitious plate, found himself in the backseat of a Linndale cruiser, and says he didn’t feel safe.
“The police officer I was driving with was actually texting while driving down 71, while I was in the backseat, and I felt my life was in danger when he was texting while driving,” said Alex.
Since his case is still pending, Alex asked that his full name and face not be shown on camera.
“I didn’t want to say anything,” Alex said. “I didn’t know what to expect, what they were going to do. They could have done anything against me so I figured I would just keep my mouth shut and take a picture.”
Alex had access to his cell phone because he was not placed under arrest. Officials say he was given a courtesy ride to the station because his vehicle was impounded. They say Alex never filed a complaint with them.
When we showed the picture to Linndale Police Chief Gary Teske, he said he would talk to the officer about it. The chief said the officer would face no discipline.
Linndale officials say the officer told them he was looking up directions to the police station for Alex and they do not believe the officer did anything wrong. They said the cell phone was the officer’s personal phone and we would not be able to look at it or examine the records.
“In this manner of someone asking for information and providing that information to hold them accountable, I can’t hold them any more accountable if I told them not to answer the radio because they can’t do it without their hands,” said Sgt. Tim Franczak, Linndale’s public information officer.
Alex said he never asked for directions, only the address. He says the officer in the passenger side of the car gave him the address before they even began driving.
According to Alex’s cell phone, he sent the address to his girlfriend at 5:15. His phone shows he took the picture of the officer, 15 minutes later, at 5:30.
“He neither denied or confirmed,” Franczak said. “He said, Sarge, I thought I wasn’t even driving when I looked up the information, I may have been.”
A close up look of the photo shows the officer appears to be driving faster than 40 mph.
The department does not have a policy on the use of cell phones while driving. They rely on the state law which says law enforcement officials can text or use the cell phones while driving for official business. However, the Ohio State Highway Patrol has a strict policy for troopers and stresses the use of cell phones should not cause personnel to be inattentive to duty.
“He’d look at his phone, look forward, look at his phone, look forward. He was texting,” Alex said.
And while not a violation of law, some lawmakers say they believe everyone, including police, should use caution when driving and using cell phones.
“It would be poor judgment for anybody to be texting and driving,” said state Senator Tom Patton. “Just nobody is that good that they would be able to do it whether it is an officer or a teenager or a politician.”
Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed, who has legislation pending to ban drivers from using hand-held cell phones, says even though his legislation does not include officers and other first responders, he says he encourages all police departments to direct officers not to use cell phones while driving unless it is an emergency.
“It always concerns me when anyone is driving a two-ton vehicle and looking down at their cell phone for whatever reason,” Reed said. “Whether to look up something on the Internet, to send a text message, look for a phone number, that one second of distraction could cause a fatal accident.”