A Howard County police officer died early this morning from injuries he sustained after he was struck by a car he tried to pull over for speeding Saturday afternoon, authorities said.Though I don't know for sure, I would guess the justification behind this type of traffic enforcement, which seems to have become more common in the past few years, is that you can ticket more speeders with significantly less effort and in a shorter amount of time than pulling them over one-by-one in cruisers, but such gains clearly come at the expense of officer safety.
Howard police said Pfc. Scott Wheeler, a 6 1/2-year veteran, was working a speed enforcement detail on Route 32 near U.S. 1 when he and two other officers tried to stop a Nissan Sentra about 2 p.m. Police said the car's driver was suspected of speeding.
Wheeler was standing in the road to flag down cars that other officers using radar flagged for a traffic infraction. Investigators believe the driver -- a 24-year-old woman whose name was not released -- did not see Wheeler before he was struck. Charges against the driver have not been filed.
Wheeler suffered "significant head trauma," and was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center for treatment, where he was until he died today.
The officer was married in September and worked night shifts in the county's southern police district, based in Laurel. He was named Howard County's Police Officer of the Month in December 2002, in part for thwarting an armed robbery at a restaurant in Columbia.
Now is the time for mourning. But soon the time will come to reexamine the practice that lead to this tragedy.
Wheeler's death follows a few weeks of ego-fueled, voyeuristic stories and "because we can" public information requests and disclosures from the Examiner about government salaries, with a focus on police salaries and overtime compensation. See today's particularly poorly-timed piece, for instance. It's easy for such people to be critical of public spending in the abstract, from the comfort of their desks, but they would do well to remember who's really protecting the public.