Officer should exhibit better judgment

Freedom New Mexico

The June 19 vehicle rollover that involved a Portales police officer was a frightful reminder of how dangerous those public servants’ jobs can be.

It also is a reminder that law officers have no super-human skills — even when they’re trying to help somebody — and that safety must come first.

Thankfully, neither Officer Lee Ferguson nor anyone else was seriously injured in the accident on the edge of town near Wal-Mart. What is unsettling, though, is the incident was not the first one in which he’s shown poor judgment behind the wheel of a police car.

This on-duty crash was Ferguson’s third in less than four years while driving a patrol car:

• On Jan. 4, 2007, as a Melrose officer, he failed to yield at an intersection and crashed into another vehicle. He was cited and paid a $55 fine.

• On Oct. 12, 2008, as a Portales officer, he ran through a red light and was blamed for a collision with another vehicle. That case was dismissed when the prosecuting officer failed to appear in court.

In 2007, Ferguson’s accident occurred as he was responding to a silent alarm at Melrose High School. In 2008, he was pursuing a vehicle that ran a red light in front of him. This year, the June 19 rollover came as he was responding to a report of a child abduction in progress (it turned out to be a child custody dispute).

It’s understandable and appreciated that Officer Ferguson clearly wants to go where he’s needed as quickly as possible in defense of the public. Yet it is unsettling that in at least three cases he didn’t show the judgment to actually provide the help needed.

In the most recent incident, police said Ferguson was traveling at least 60 mph in a 45-mph zone when he swerved to avoid another vehicle and flipped his cruiser along U.S. 70. Investigators said they would recommend the driver of the other car be cited for failure to yield and that Ferguson be cited for failure to wear his seatbelt.

New Mexico State Police Capt. Jimmy Glascock told a reporter last week that officials are trying to determine whether Ferguson also should be cited for excessive speed. Law officers sometimes can exceed the speed limit when circumstances warrant, he said.

As for the seatbelt violation: “Just because we’re the police, we can’t run around without one,” Glascock said. “Our department enforces that very, very vigorously.”

Officer Ferguson’s service is appreciated. His repeated involvement in traffic accidents is not. He must hold himself to the same standards required of the rest of us. If he doesn’t, he should be taken off patrol duty permanently.