By James Fite
A woman speeds by a cop on a wet highway, leaving the patrol car behind as if it were standing still. There was no speed detection in use, but the driver was clearly going over the speed limit on a wet road, potentially putting lives at risk. What’s an officer to do in a situation like this: arrest the driver, write a ticket or two and send her on her way, or let her off with a stern warning? Here’s a novel idea: toss a coin and leave it to fate.
That’s what two Roswell, Georgia officers did back in April when Sarah Webb allegedly sped past them in her rush to make it to work on time. After discussing whether to arrest her or just give her tickets and send her on her way, the officers used a mobile app that simulates a coin flip to determine Webb’s fate – heads, she goes to jail; tails, she goes home. Of course, when the “coin” landed on tails, they decided to arrest her anyways. Had the officers honored the rules of their little game, unprofessional as it was, the body cam footage would likely never have been pulled. But of course, they didn’t. And now their behavior has come back to bite them.
Officer Courtney Brown accused Webb of going over 80 miles per hour (MPH), despite having no actual evidence to back it up. On the video, officer Kristee Wilson can be heard advising Brown on an unreliable way to calculate what she calls back speed, which is actually a horse-racing term, meaning the best speed rating in the last 12 months at or near the same distance as today. However, Officer Brown admits that she did not have any sort of speed detection active and seems to understand that she did not have a viable way to determine Webb’s actual speed. For that matter, she seems unclear on what ticket she can write as she discusses the options with Wilson.
Since Webb was arrested and charged with reckless driving, she requested the bodycam footage. However, her request was denied. Had a Channel 11 news investigator not heard from another Roswell officer about the video, which was apparently known of department-wide, the fact that Webb’s fate was little more than a joke to these cops would likely never have been exposed. Once the unprofessional behavior of these officers came to light, however, Webb was freed, with charges dropped, and her car was released from impound. The officers were placed on paid leave while an investigation takes place. Webb, of course, feels they should be fired, not given a paid vacation. This raises one more question, though. If the video was common knowledge throughout the department, why was it only months later when the media got hold of it that something was actually done about it?
Do the Crime, Do the Time
Some might say that it doesn’t matter. Sarah Webb broke the law, and therefore she deserves whatever punishment she gets. Was she speeding? Most likely. If we assume Officer Brown was driving along at 45 MPH – the speed limit in that spot – then Webb had to have been speeding. However, Brown has no real way of knowing by how much. The fact that Brown had to get up to almost 90 MPH to catch her proves a few things, but that Webb was doing at least 80 MPH is not one of them.
A Little Speculation
Let’s do a little speculative math, even though we’re missing multiple variables necessary for the results to really mean anything. We don’t know the actual speed of the police car when Webb passed it, how long it took Brown to respond and begin the acceleration, how long it took for Brown’s car to accelerate to 90 MPH, or how long they had to do 90 before catching Webb.
But let us assume that Brown maintained a constant velocity of 45 MPH, which is 66 feet per second (FPS). Let us also assume that Webb traveled at a constant 80, which is 117.333 FPS. Every second from passing Brown to being pulled over, Webb puts another 51.333 feet between them. If we give Webb a 20-second lead for Brown to react and then get up to speed, then pretend the change in speed was instantaneous, There are 583 or so feet between the two cars when Brown hits 90 MPH, or 132 FPS. Assuming no other changes in velocity, it would take he over a minute to catch Webb.
However, as you can see from the overly simplified example above, the fact that Brown got up to 90 MPH to catch her does not prove that Webb was doing 80 or more. Indeed, given the way the officers discussed it, it’s entirely reasonable to assume that she didn’t actually maintain 90 MPH very long. It is far more likely that Brown accelerated constantly until she caught up to Webb, either right as or very shortly after she achieved 90 MPH. If that is the case, then it’s almost certain that Webb was going much slower than what the officer assumed. Although, once again, we simply don’t have all the information needed to determine one way or the other.
Unprofessional Behavior by Reckless Officers
Brown’s admittiance that she accelerated to 90 MPH before she caught up to Webb does not prove a speed of 80 MPH. Her argument that it does, however, proves that Brown has little or no understanding of kinematics – the branch of mechanics concerned with the motion of objects without reference to the forces that cause the motion. It also proves that she is even guiltier of reckless driving than Webb. After all, whether Webb was doing 80 when she passed the officers or a mere 60, this officer hit 90 on the very same wet road to catch her.
What should these officers have done? Given the fact that they had no real idea how fast Webb was actually going, they probably should have sent her on her way with a stern warning. Sure, she could have risked lives – but the officers risked more by driving faster. If safety were the concern, then responding as they did was rather hypocritical. They could have merely written her the too fast for conditions ticket and sent her on her way. As for Officers Brown and Wilson, perhaps an unpaid leave would have been more appropriate.