It's Police Day here at Levey's Corners. Let's begin with an all-too-common situation that Ed McGarry of Mitchellville, Md., encountered early this month on the Prince George's County slice of the Beltway.
On a foggy, drizzly evening, Ed was picking his way slowly past Andrews Air Force Base when, "without very much warning at all, I came upon a disabled car completely stopped in the middle lane.
" . . . .Not a quarter of a mile further, hidden around a curve, was another usual Beltway 'hazard' -- a Maryland State Police radar trap, parked on the inside shoulder . . . .I stopped (voluntarily) and walked back to tell them that I thought more good would be done if they went back and put out some flares. They did."
But Ed is still wondering why the cops were so busy busting speeders on a foggy night that they had to be told about a situation that could have caused a 20-car pileup.
Sgt. Bill Tower, a spokesman for the state police, said that "on those types of nights, there is constant patrol. We are not going to neglect calls for service because we are working a radar system."
However, Sgt. Tower said that patrols can't clear up every emergency the second it happens. "It depends on the location and manpower assigned at the time," he said.
It's an old and a costly idea, I know. But what about placing emergency phones along the side of the Beltway? The two minutes a phone would have saved in a case like this could have kept a lot of property damage -- and maybe some injuries or deaths -- from occurring.
On we charge to Montgomery County, where a reader saw something very surprising one recent morning.
She was walking past the main Rockville post office when a county police cruiser swung into the one and only handicapped parking place in the lot. The officer went inside, then came back out 10 minutes later and drove away as if he didn't have a care in the world.
Said Sgt. Harry Geehreng, director of the Department of Media Services for the county police:
"If an officer is on official business, we have to sometimes park in violation. We need to park in the most expedient way to answer the call. When not on official business, the driver of a county car is expected to obey the law." Sgt. Geehreng added that he has "no way of knowing" whether the officer who gobbled up the handicapped space at the post office was on official business or not.
What Sgt. Geehreng overlooks is that there are two kinds of official business: routine and hurry-up.
If the officer in this case were responding to a holdup, heck, he could have parked on the sidewalk, and I would have been the first to congratulate him.
But if he was just going inside to interview a witness, or deliver a message (or buy stamps, perhaps?), he's got no excuse.
Still in Montgomery, this time at the intersection of Seven Locks and Montrose Roads in Potomac. One morning in February, a reader of mine was horrified to watch a speeding car run over and kill a dog, as a woman and her three children looked on, all of them in tears.
It was obviously their dog, and the driver had obviously caused a lot of pain and suffering. But what are the legalities of that situation? Is a driver required to stop if he hits an animal? What can he be charged with if he flees?
"Maryland law requires the driver of an auto who strikes an animal to notify the police," said Sgt. Geehreng. "The police are then required to notify whatever agency handles this. In Montgomery County, it would be the Humane Society. The society will then try to notify the owner of the animal."
But as far as penalties are concerned, hit-and-runners who pick on animals have it relatively easy. According to Sgt. Geehreng, fleeing the scene of an accident involving an animal is considered a misdemeanor. The driver can be fined a maximum of $50. Pretty puny. Pretty outrageous.
Lastly, to the city we go, and this question, from Margaret Sampson and Mary Yee, both of Northwest:
"If we step into a crosswalk with WALK or a green light in our favor, do we have the right of way -- not only over cars running the red light, but also over those turning into the crosswalk?"
I've long wondered about this one myself, ladies. Here's the passage that Jim Battle, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police, read from The Good Book -- the D.C. traffic regulations:
"If a pedestrian is facing a WALK signal and is crossing within a crosswalk, he/she should be given the right of way by cars turning into the crosswalk . . . .However, no pedestrian should suddenly leave a curb and walk into the path of a vehicle so close to the vehicle that it is impossible for that vehicle to yield."
In other words, pedestrians have the right of way except when cars don't give it to them.
And you thought Disneyland was in California?