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Tuesday, July 29, 2008 | In 14 years as a police officer, I do not ever remember an officer being vilified by the public in the manner in which San Diego Police Officer Police Paul Hubka has following the death of his canine partner Forrest on June 20.
I have read letters to the Union-Tribune and e-mails to the San Diego Police Officers Association where people have called Paul, an officer that has served this community with distinction and honor for over 20 years, a disgrace.
Some of the truly ignorant authors of the hate mail concerning Paul have suggested that he somehow was intentionally cruel to his partner and a couple even stated that Paul should be executed. Scott Lewis’ recent SLOP Blog on the “brutal irony” concerning the litigation between San Diego canine officers and the city of San Diego sparked more asinine comments about Paul as well.
Since Scott feels like talking about irony, I have few comments to make on the subject. I find it ironic our community invited hundreds of thousands of people to San Diego in June for the U.S. Open and the 2008 Bio International Convention, tasked a police department strained with hundreds of vacancies and officers unavailable for duty to provide around the clock security for these events, and then abdicated all responsibility when a tragic accident took place.
Before I continue on, let me say that I have not spoken to Paul about this incident. I suspect that in addition to his normal shift work, overtime, and family considerations he (like hundreds of other officers) was requested by the department to work a significant amount of additional overtime to provide a safe environment for people enjoying the U.S. Open and 2008 Bio Convention.
I believe that these additional requests placed on officers between June 9 and 20, which were already exhausted by their regular duties due to limited staffing and incessant attacks over benefits, fatigued San Diego Police Officers to the point where a tragedy like Forrest’s death was inevitable on the 20. If I am correct and officer fatigue played a role in Forrest’s death, who do we blame for it? After all we have to blame somebody. Let’s start with Paul, who has already tormented himself over this incident to such an extent, that I don’t think even the most vile of letter from the community can hurt him anymore than he has tortured himself. Paul left the dog in the car and the dog died. He bears responsibility for this incident, but he sure as heck does not deserve to bear it alone.
First, other members of the police department, me included, can share a little bit of the blame with Paul. I routinely work around officers that work full shifts on a couple hours of sleep and I am guilty of it myself. I watch, without saying a word, as supervisors approve overtime for officers that they have to know are working numerous days in a row without a break. I have allowed myself to buy into the department motto simply known as follows: “SDPD we do more with less.” There is a culture that exists in this department that officers can handle anything and that means work hours and stresses that would probably drive most people insane. Fatigue is the accepted norm at SDPD and with most other police agencies around the country. It is allowed, because paying overtime saves millions of dollars versus hiring more full time employees.
We all know, and studies confirm, that our judgments and overall abilities at work are significantly impacted when we become tired or fatigued. One study that I am familiar with claims that fatigue is four times as likely to cause workplace impairment as alcohol or drugs. If you want some more irony, if Paul, or any officer, was suspect of having a drug or alcohol problem it would have been dealt with immediately by the department. However, the most probable cause of performance failure, fatigue, is overlooked. Who do we blame for this?
Airline pilots, railroad personnel, emergency room doctors, and truck drivers (to name a few professions) all have limitations placed on them by lawmakers on the number of cumulative hours they can work. However, cops have no such limitations. We are expected to work and often sacrifice ourselves, our relationships with our families and our health to provide public safety. Should lawmakers be held to blame for not putting restrictions on the number of hours officers can work in a row if it leads to a tragic accident?
Finally, what about my fellow San Diegans who curse and defame officers like Paul who put themselves at risk for you every day? Paul has been a canine officer longer than I have been a cop. He has worked with numerous canine partners through the years, had an impeccable career until Forrest’s death, and probably saved more lives and resolved more critical incidents on this department than you can possibly imagine. He has done everything this community has ever asked of him, and pushed himself physically and mentally to his limits as he was told, “Do more with less.” I blame and have a fair amount of disdain for community members and activists that demand everything from its public servants and want to pay nothing in return. You have your role in this tragedy as well.
Paul should not take the blame of Forrest’s death alone. The resources available and the continued demands placed on the San Diego Police Department in its current state made this tragedy fated. Quite frankly, I expected it to happen long before now and I am truly sorry that it cost Forrest his life.