Police Protection: Using Discretion

In 2011, after both the Etubom and Medrano lawsuits, the Houston Police Department revised its policy on how officers should respond to calls of service, depending on the calls' urgency, or "priority."

At issue in both cases was the standard response for a priority two call. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in both cases alleged that the order in place at the time mandated that officers obey all traffic laws if they were not using lights or siren (that is, were "running silent").

City attorneys argued that the emergency equipment provision was not mandatory and that it gave the officers discretion. They also argued that even if the provision were mandatory, superseding state law allows officers to run silent at any speed when responding.

The plaintiffs' attorneys contended that the General Order was revised to explicitly give the officers the ability to use their discretion, which proved that the previous order didn't allow for discretion.

The city's attorneys claimed that the order was revised only to more clearly reflect state law.

General Order 600-01, at the time of both accidents:

"Standard response to priority two calls is silent; however, if the situation clearly warrants the use of emergency equipment, the officer [has] the prerogative to use that mode, but that decision must be communicated verbally to the dispatcher. Officers are reminded that priority two calls may be held in queue for ten minutes prior to dispatch. Obviously, an expedited response at that point in time would probably be ineffective...The responding officer will proceed directly to the scene, obey all traffic laws (unless utilizing red light and siren) and not stop any traffic violators.

General Order 600-01, revised in 2011:

"Standard response to priority two calls is silent; however, if the situation clearly warrants the use of emergency equipment, the officer has the option to use that mode, but that decision must be communicated verbally to the dispatcher."

"Patrol response: No emergency lights or siren will be used unless the officer has additional information justifying the use of emergency equipment."

"Queue standard: Five minutes."

"Travel goal: Five minutes from receipt of call."

 
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