Gene McAbee Responds to Last Week’s Letter From “K”

To: “K”

Last week, The Western Carolinian published a letter from you about the frustration you experienced when your friend received a campus citation for failing to obey the directions of an officer at the Dodson crosswalk at class change. I am very sorry if I made your feel uncomfortable when you visited my office to talk about the citation.As hard as I try, I still find it difficult to make a smooth transition from conducting a sexual assault interview to talking to someone who is angry over a ticket.Normally, I would not respond publicly to a letter in the paper, but I hope this will provide an opportunity to educate the community on traffic control. First, traffic direction may seem simple but it is complicated and dangerous. Over the years, officers have been struck by cars while directing traffic on campus. One officer was struck at the Wachovia intersection several years ago. One of our student Rangers was struck in the baseball lot while parking cars for the circus a few weeks ago. I, myself, was hit by a car on Mountain heritage day ten years ago.For the safety of pedestrians, other motorists, and for our officers, it is imperative that everyone who enters a traffic post pay close attention to the officer assigned to manage that post. This is not a time for independent decisions. Do not make a movement without seeing a motion from the officer indicating it is your turn to move. If you are in any way confused by the officer’s motions, wait until he/she clarifies the instructions.Second, when differences of opinions arise between the officer’s observations of a violation and the person who allegedly committed the violation, there is an appeals system set up to adjudicate the matter. For campus citations, the SGA Traffic Court makes those rulings. For state citations, the state court system determines guilty or innocence. If you disagreed with the officer’s conclusions, you were absolutely right to appeal to the SGA Traffic Court.As police officers, we have no personal stake in the outcome of these judicial processes. Our job is to respond based on our observations, present those observations to the court, and allow the court to decide guilty or innocence.While I am happy to discuss and explain a situation such as your and to act if an officer has violated departmental policy or legal guidelines, I will not normally second guess an officer’s observations. That examination is the responsibility of the courts.Third, I would suggest that anyone who needs to speak to me for any reason call my office for an appointment. This is a courtesy that should be extended to every faculty and staff member and one that will serve students well in business dealings when they leave the University. Our office is set up to handle walk-in traffic for simple matters, but it is sometimes difficult for me to see walk-in visitors immediately.Fourth, please remember that an officer is not trying to be rude just because he/she does not agree with you. In this case, the officer did not yell and did not use profanity. He simply observed what he believed to be a violation and issued a citation.Finally, I encourage everyone who walks or drives on campus to follow the traffic laws, which relate to pedestrians and vehicles. Cross at the crosswalks. Observe the “walk-don’t walk” signals and traffic lights at Wachovia Bank. Drive and walk defensively. Don’t assume that because you have the legal right-of-way that others will yield. And slow down. We all drive too fast on campus.Again, I sincerely apologize for the discomfort you felt as you pursued your complaint. I will try to do better.

Gene McAbeeDirector, university Police and Traffic Services