It has been all over the news since yesterday. San Diego Police Department Officer Jeffrey Swett, a long time veteran of the police force, was hit by his own patrol vehicle.
According to reports, Officer Swett had responded to a call about a residential burglary in progress near Naval Base San Diego. Apparently, he had exited his vehicle, but, left it running while he was speaking with witnesses at the scene. At that point, a 25 year old man, Frank William Bogard, jumped into the police SUV and drove off, hitting Officer Swett and actually carrying him on the hood of the vehicle for some distance until the Officer fell to the pavement.
Another Officer fired at the vehicle, and at least one bullet hit Bogard. He then proceeded to drive up the wire attached to a utility poll causing the vehicle to crash against the pole landing vertically against it. He was then taken into custody.
A lot of people are asking how this could have happened.
To start with, let’s all agree we hope Officer Swett is doing as well as possible. He was transported to the hospital where his injuries were reported as severe, but, not life threatening. Hopefully, he can make a rapid and full recovery. He is a well respected Officer who I just saw testifying in court last week at a hearing claiming he had illegally stopped a DUI driver. The Judge correctly concluded Officer Swett had acted properly.
People unfamiliar with police procedures will still be asking how this could have happened. How did he get hit by his own vehicle?
It is important to keep in mind, that situations like responding to a residential burglary in progress are very fluid. The officer is really jumping into a situation filled with unknowns. Are we sure which home is involved? Is the suspect still there? Has he or she fled? Does the suspect have any sort of weapon? Is there more than one suspect? Is anyone else in the home or is anyone else at risk? Is there a “get away car” nearby?
The responding officer has to deal with all of these types of questions and more. In general, they are trained to get to the scene as quickly as possible, assess the situation and gather as much information as possible as quickly as possible. That is probably why in this case Officer Swett was speaking with witnesses.
It is not uncommon for police to leave their vehicles running in a situation like this. They do not know if they are going to have to quickly need to begin a pursuit in their vehicle or move to another location to accomplish establishing a perimeter. Obviously, they do not want any “bad guys” taking their vehicle, but, it is extremely rare that criminals go toward or enter police vehicles on their own accord.
It is unclear from the reports so far if the person who jumped into the police vehicle was the burglary suspect or some other whacko who saw a chance to grab the vehicle. The investigation should answer those questions as well as whether Officer Swett could have done anything differently to prevent his vehicle from being taken. Further, initial reports could suggest the person who stole the police vehicle intentionally drove at Officer Swett. The investigation will also try and determine if the driver accidentally hit Officer Swett while trying to get away or if he was trying to hit him, perhaps to effectuate his escape.
There will also have to be some assessment of the use of force by the second officer who fired his gun at the vehicle. Hopefully, that officer was not shooting at the driver when Officer Swett was still on the hood. Never want police killed by friendly fire.
If nothing else, this is another example of how dangerous being a cop can be.