Pinellas Park City Council member Rick Butler has shown some disregard for the law, and there is a broader lesson in this local dust-up for all Florida motorists.
A recent sting operation involving police officers from Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach focused on catching violators of the 2002 "move over" law. The law, which may still be unfamiliar to too many drivers, requires motorists to slow down and move over if possible when approaching an emergency vehicle with its lights flashing. The police officers parked two cars, including one police car with its lights flashing, on a busy street to count vehicles that slowed down or pulled over as the law requires.
Officers issued 200 tickets and 26 warnings. Butler received a warning and avoided a $111 ticket. Pinellas Park police spokesman Sandy Forseth told the St. Petersburg Times that officers use discretion in deciding to ticket or to warn, and the officer said he would have ticketed Butler if Butler had not been a City Council member. That is not the sort of discretion police officers should be using. It's political favoritism, and Butler only inflamed the situation with his initial indignation.
The council member's response to a reporter's question about the warning: "That's not even worth responding to. There were a lot of people who got warnings that day."
But there was only one who skated by because he holds elected office. Now Butler says he would have gladly signed a ticket and paid it. Maybe he can back up his words by donating $111 to a cause related to promoting the "move over" law.
Violating the "move over'' law is no small infraction. The Florida Highway Patrol reports that from 1996 to 2000, motorists crashed into 1,793 working law enforcement vehicles parked or stopped along Florida roads, killing five officers and injuring 419.
The "move over" law is common sense. It saves lives and protects police officers. Everyone, including local politicians, should obey it or pay the consequences.