Sen. David Haley questioned Tuesday why legislation is needed to protect law enforcement officers from minor traffic infractions while fighting crime.
Haley, a Democrat from Kansas City, said nobody prosecutes police for such violations as parking in the median while monitoring traffic, running a red light, making a u-turn or exceeding the speed limit. Proposed legislation would grant police permission to violate the rules of the road.
“What are we doing here?” Haley said. “What is the necessity?”
In a Senate debate that led to first-round approval of the bill, Democrats suggested the broad language would grant police immunity from injuries and damage in high-speed chases.
Sen. Kevin Braun, R-Kansas City, insisted the bill “has nothing to do with police chases.”
He said the legislation is intended to protect officers from giving away their identity when watching or tracking criminal activity. For instance, he said, if an officer is responding to a silent alarm at the bank, he needs to get there quickly and without signaling his arrival.
He asked Haley how he would feel if his job as a senator involved breaking the law 10 times per day.
“When we ask an officer, he or she, to risk their life on a daily basis — to perform the duties everyone in this chamber needs them to do, makes laws for them to do — for me personally, I think it’s a lot to ask to say, ‘I need you to break some laws now and then, and then to hold a different standard for other people,’ ” Braun said.
Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, introduced an amendment that would require officers to use lights, siren and caution when speeding in pursuit of a suspect.
“What should be of most concern is the safety of our residents,” Pettey said.
She and Haley referenced a recent traffic fatality in Kansas City in which a woman was killed in an intersection by a car that was being pursued by an officer who didn’t turn on his lights.
“We’re not going to take the law enforcement through prosecution for that,” Haley said. “That never happens. It shouldn’t, really. But I think there should be some designation that (Petty’s amendment) is indeed necessary for public safety.”
After the amendment failed on a 29-9 vote, Haley said the bill “provides the cover, if you will, for things that happen that just make me cringe.”