Seems Google failed me. Due to slight variances in the search terms I used to find the anti-cellphone usage while driving law I failed to come across an exception for particular authorities. I had found the press release which referred to N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.3. The law linked on the site I referred to in the original post, which amended rather then added to the statutes, did not include the following section:
39:4-97.4 Inapplicability of act to certain officials.
2.The prohibitions set forth in this act shall not be applicable to any of the following persons while in the actual performance of their official duties: a law enforcement officer; a member of a paid, part-paid, or volunteer fire department or company; or an operator of an authorized emergency vehicle.
I’ve yet to track down where and when this exception was added or if it was part of the existing law and was kept to apply to the newly added/amended text.
The officer who I was in contact with last wrote me this:
Thank you for your last response and I now understand your concern regarding NJS 39:4-97.3 (Use of handheld devices while operating a motor vehicle). I also appreciate the fact that your wish is not to punish the officer, but rather to question the overall reason and validity for the statute itself. In spite of the fact that there is a statute regarding the use of hand held devices by law enforcement personnel, this agency does in fact have an in-house policy that prohibits officers from using cell phones while operating their patrol vehicles, unless there is an emergent situation that warrants the use of the device. Based upon your request, this matter will be investigated and most likely be resolved with the officer being counseled in regards to this allegation.
For your convenience, I have cited the above mentioned statute:
NJS 39:4-97.4 (Inapplicability of act to certain officials).
The prohibitions set forth in this act shall not be applicable to any of the following persons while in the actual performance of their duties: a law enforcement officer; a member of a paid, part-paid, or volunteer fire department or company; or an operator of an authorized emergency vehicle.
As we all know, laws and statutes are always subject to individual legal interpretation. For example, this particular statute refers to “while in the actual performance of their duties”. Could it be that simply patrolling the borough of Fort Lee may be considered an actual performance of their duties? Perhaps it could, depending upon one individual’s interpretation.
At this time, I would again like to thank you for your leniency towards the officer. Unlike yourself, there are many people who are on a mission to attack our officer’s to the fullest extent for minor infractions such as this one, forgetting that the very same officer would bravely respond to their aid when they are faced with a life or death situation of their own.
If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me any time.
I hadn’t mentioned in the email chain what I wrote at the end of the original post so he must have seen it there. I’m glad to see this officer is, or at least appears to be, OK with my public response to this matter as those who are regulars would know not all at the FLPD have been pleased with my posts regarding my problems in obtaining handgun purchasing permits.
Regarding NJS 39:4-97.4, I have to take exception with it especially given the reasons for the prohibition. The primary reason is safety. One poster used in the campaign to raise awareness of the law reads: “Put the phone down. No conversation is worth a ticket or your life.” As I’ve mentioned I’m against such prohibitions due to the nature of the act. The use of a cell phone while driving is not an aggressive act. Being distracted while operating a motor vehicle is not in and of itself an infringement on another’s rights. Driving recklessly is what threatens other driver’s safety and deserves some level of attention. The cause for such actions are, at least on the surface, of little relevance. For arguments sake lets accept the claim that hand-held cell phone usage is more distracting and therefore more dangerous to allow then hands free usage or changing the radio station or listening to often infuriating political talk radio. Accepting that theory, I would say that if there is anyone who I’d rather not have distracted while on the road it would be “the following persons while in the actual performance of their duties: a law enforcement officer; a member of a paid, part-paid, or volunteer fire department or company; or an operator of an authorized emergency vehicle.” All those listed should at all times be focusing on their respective job. Their jobs require not only that they pay attention to the road and the surroundings, which can be difficult enough especially in a densely populated area, but also communicating with some dispatcher and particularly for law enforcement officers watching for criminal activity. Anyone who has ever had something catch their eye as they drive through town or caught themselves sightseeing while driving know how dangerous it can be when you take your eyes and mind off the vehicles and pedestrians around you. A patrolling officer’s job is practically to drive around and do just that. Adding another distraction, especially one that has been said to degrade driving ability to that similar to being drunk, is not in line with the stated intentions of the law.
The officer points out, somewhat obviously, that these laws are up for interpretation. Does “actual performance of their duties” include patrol? I believe it absolutely is performance of their duties. What the law may imply and/or should say is “this act shall not be applicable to any of the following persons in and for the actual performance of their duties.” I would hope the exception did not intend to allow those listed to just sit on the phone and chat it up with a friend or loved one or check the balance of their checking account. Given the ambiguity (and arguable contradiction) of the law and the increased distraction it can cause I’m fine with and glad there is an in-house restriction. It unfortunately does not bring the FLPD officers and the general driver to equal treatment. The officer in this case will simply get a talking to yet had the actions and cars been reversed I’d probably be in possession of a $100 to $250 ticket and the choice of payment or bringing it to court with all the possible unpleasant outcomes regarding them. I can hope that the FLPD realize this difference and uses discretion when considering utilizing the authority granted to them by NJS 39:4-97.3. Even better I think would be that in addition to reserving such power for individuals who actually endanger others, institute an unofficial policy that recommends any officer caught breaking in-house rules or State or local statutes which threatened no one and caused no harm to donate what would be the fine for the regular driver to a local private charity.
And in response to the final paragraph. Many, including some libertarians, are extremely critical of police. Like with many aspects of life the good or neutral or expected are glossed over and the negatives are often exaggerated. And while it is important to acknowledge when something is done right it is more important to criticize when something is done wrong. The good acts do not negate the bad ones nor vise-versa. When an officer acts in defense of another’s person or property they have acted due to contractual obligations with regard to their job or for other personal motivations but they are not obligated to do so in that there is no legitimate reason to force him/her to perform such acts. They are in the right should they act or not act. If they act they are acting on the behalf of the victim, hopefully with their consent, against the aggressor and if they do not act they have obviously not initiated any force, fraud, theft or the threat of. However, if the officer is enforcing a statute which punishes or prohibits another individual’s actions which in themselves did not cause harm to another or their property the officer has become the aggressor. So just as I don’t want police to enforce laws prohibiting consensual / victimless actions I don’t want officers who themselves perform the victimless action to be aggressed against or punished. What I do want in the least is consistency and accountability. I want to make sure that the public knows of any inconsistencies in the enforcement of laws and that those in supposed positions of authority are aware that there are those of us who are paying attention to such things. To minimize the possibility of the blue code of silence. To minimize and reduce the growing feeling that those who work in the government are in a class above the rest of us.
I’ve responded to the above email requesting that should the officer find out my identity, due to the fact that some in the FLPD will inevitably read these posts, that I be given his. While I feel that it’s legitimate for that information to be public I offered to keep it private. While I acknowledge I’ve enabled this situation I feel it’s a reasonable request. I also asked if there is a publicly available copy of the FLPD standard operating procedures and polices.