The unsung heroes of the police profession are the men and women who suit up, climb into a patrol car and regulate the flow of traffic in our country. As a police commander, I loved the general practitioners of the police world, guys and gals who could handle a wide variety of the law enforcement circumstances they came in contact with. I was fond of admonishing my officers that nearly every really bad actor in our society drives a vehicle and crosses paths with a diligent officer on our streets. Alert traffic officers had a knack for ferreting them out and welcoming their entry in to the criminal justice system. I know it can be done as I have done just that on numerous occasions. It is also important to note that speeders, aggressive drivers and impaired drivers kill more Americans than murderers on an annual basis. Traffic officers also catch killers, as evidenced below.
Great traffic officers have a keen understanding of “probable cause”. When you master this legal requirement, the door is open to legal searches of vehicles where the mistakes of criminals lurk. Illegal substances, stolen property, and on occasion, bodies, are sometimes detected. The following commentary illustrates my point here, cases where heinous killers and traffic officers crossed paths with the bad guys losing……
Timothy McVeigh, currently residing in a corner of hell courtesy of the US Government and the death penalty, sent to his reward on June 11, 2001. Tim needs little introduction. He killed 168 folks on April 19, 1995 as well as maimed hundreds more when he blew up the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City. An alert Oklahoma trooper stopped McVeigh on the day of the bombing for having an expired license on his Mercury. A probable cause search revealed a loaded firearm and the investigation unfolded, sending Timothy to the “big sleep”.
Randy Kraft, currently awaiting execution in California. On May 14, 1983, California Highway Patrol officers noticed Kraft’s Jeep being driven erratically and stopped him. Kraft quickly exited his Jeep and walked toward the officers who subjected him to a field sobriety test which he failed. The officers detained Kraft and searched his Jeep where they found a shrouded body of a young Marine in the front seat. The Marine had been heavily sedated and then strangled. A subsequent investigation resulted in the conviction of Kraft for killing 16 young men, many were Marines, picked up hitchhiking. It is believed he killed as many 67 men.
Wayne Williams, currently residing in the Georgia State Penitentiary where he will be for the rest of his life. Traffic officers were watching bridges over the Chattahoochee River for suspicious activity as a result of as many as 30 young black men being recovered from the river, victims of homicide. Williams stopped on a bridge before dawn on May 21, 1981, officers then heard something hit the water, and detained Wayne for stopping on a bridge. Forensic evidence subsequently led to his conviction. Wayne was black, dispelling rumors in the black community these killings were the work of the KKK or some other white hate group.
Ted Bundy, sharing a bench with McVeigh in hell, courtesy of the State of Florida and the electric chair. Very few people don’t know about Ted. What you may not know is that he was arrested in August of 1975 by the Utah Highway patrol for driving without lights after dark. An investigation resulted in a conviction for aggravated kidnapping. He escaped from jail in June 0f 1977, but his lack of driving skills brought him to the attention of another traffic officer who initiated a stop and determined the car was stolen. He escaped again in late 1977. Later Bundy was spotted in Pensacola by a traffic officer in yet another stolen car and his luck was at an end. He had killed too many young women to count and was electrocuted on January 24, 1989. Arrested three times by traffic officers.
There are many more. William Suff, on California’s death row, convicted of murder, rape and mutilation in 1995. A killer of prostitutes he was stopped and arrested by a traffic officer for an illegal u-turn. David Berkowitz. He parked illegally on a city street, a traffic officer checked his plates and Berkowitz was identified as the “Son of Sam” killer. (Berkowitz is serving 364 years in Attica and has converted to Christianity and now calls himself the “Son of Hope”. Good luck with that Berkowitz.) Joel Rifkin, stopped for no license plate by New York State Troopers, serving 183 years for the chainsaw murders of uncounted numbers of folks. In the bed of his truck was the decomposing body of a young woman. I can go on and on…….but you get it.
My point is this. We owe a tremendous debt to our police officers, of every stripe and specialty. This being said, traffic officers are an invaluable addition to the LE community and deserve just as much recognition as the super sleuths that investigate crimes……their contribution to criminal justice cannot be overstated.
Have a great week!