SAN ANTONIO – You are driving down a highway and a police car flies by at what feels like 100 mph. You think to yourself, “Are they going to a call or are they driving fast just because they can?”
The News 4 San Antonio Trouble Shooters took a hard look at speeding within the San Antonio police department, especially after a series of deadly accidents involving officers who were speeding.
“A hurt every day”
“It’s a pain and a hurt every day,” says Cindy Merrill as she thinks back to November 2006.
Her son, Rodney Brandenberger, was killed when a San Antonio police officer ran a red light responding to a call.
Data taken from the GPS unit installed on the police car shows the officer was driving 73 in a 35 mph zone.
“At that speed, Rodney didn’t have much of a chance,” said Merrill.
She is one of several family members recovering from a tragic accident involving speeding officers.
In 2008, Officer David Seaton was driving 100 mph to a shoplifting call and caused an accident that killed fellow officer Robert Davis.
Also in 2008, another officer was driving 80 mph down Blanco Rd when he crashed, injuring three people.
One victim, Vanessa Samudio, suffered permanent brain damage.
The city of San Antonio recently paid out nearly $500,000, split between the three victims.
Missing alert system
Police Chief William McManus recognized the problem and had tracking devices installed in all police cars in 2009.
The devices alert supervisors when an officer speeds, but the Trouble Shooters have learned that the police department lost the alert system during department-wide computer upgrades in 2010.
So, is speeding still a widespread problem? The answer lies in a little black box connected to every police car in San Antonio, which records GPS data.
SAPD GPS Data & Speeding
Through an open records request, the Trouble Shooters obtained the GPS data from every San Antonio police cruiser in 2012.
The data shows officers when they are not dispatched to a call.
Our review shows some officers are driving 90, 100, 110 mph and faster at any time and anywhere.
Take July 4, 2012 for example. The data shows that it’s 3:59 a.m. and an officer is recorded taking the Hildebrand on ramp to I-10W at 111 mph.
Same day, different police cruiser. An officer pushes the speed limit to 114 mph on Hwy 281 near Sonterra at 8:02 a.m.
We also found officers taking residential streets at speeds reserved for highways.
The GPS data shows a third cruiser sped down SW Military near Truemper at 75 mph around three in the morning.
And, just after 1:00 a.m., a fourth cruiser is recorded traveling down Huebner at 71 mph.
What is SAPD Doing?
News 4 provided these examples and several others to the police department.
They told us it would be impossible to go back and determine what the officers were doing when they were speeding, but the police chief gave some perspective.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean they were doing something wrong,” said McManus. “They could very well be catching up to a traffic violator.”
Chief McManus says his department is doing everything it can to slow down officers, including randomly reviewing the same speed data, but McManus knows the reality.
“I’m sure there are officers out there who, from time-to-time, speed.”
There could be a new defense against speeding soon.
The chief says they are in talks with a company to create an alert that will let supervisors know when an officer is speeding, much like the one they lost in 2010.
“There’s no making it right.”
McManus says the department address the speeding issue every single day, and the fatal mistakes of officers are taught on the first day at the police academy.
‘”I talk about Robert Davis and David Seaton to let them know that this is real,” and something, McManus says, he takes very seriously.
For Cindy Merrill, words are not enough.
Her heartache has not waned in the seven years since her son’s death, and until the speeding habit is curbed, she says more innocent sons, daughters, mothers and fathers will be taken from their families.
“Every life they take with excessive speed affects so many people and there's no bringing it back. There's no making it right," said Merrill.