Naked City

Every Officer Does His Duty?

And now for a bit of irony provided by the Austin Police Dept. According to an APD press release, on Jan. 5 just after 4am, five-year veteran Officer Dewayne Friar heard "suspicious noises" outside his South Austin home. After telling someone else inside the house to call 911, the off-duty Friar went outside to discover two people burglarizing his car. The two quickly fled in a Jeep Cherokee, pursued by Friar in his car; when the Jeep pulled into a nearby cul-de-sac, Friar followed, got out of his car, and identified himself as a police officer. One suspect fled; Friar got the other one onto the ground where a struggle for Friar's gun ensued. Eventually the gun went off and the suspect, Tony Bustos, was shot in the groin. The other suspect, Vincent Walker, was arrested shortly thereafter.

According to the press release, Friar has been placed on restricted duty while the incident is investigated, as is standard practice. But it appears the APD public information machinery has already given Friar a nod of approval. APD spokesman Kevin Buchman told News 8 Austin that it is department policy that, even if an officer is off-duty, "if an officer witnesses a crime ... the officer [is] to take action." News 8 added that in Texas it is legal for people to protect their property and that, "police say, in this situation, officer Friar was also protecting his neighborhood."

These two declarations confounded Naked City, considering the hoopla APD has raised over the similar actions of former officer Tim Enlow, who was fired for, among other things, taking police action while off-duty. During Enlow's extensive arbitration hearing last fall, APD witnesses, including Chief Stan Knee, told arbitrator Harold Moore that Enlow had blatantly violated policy when he made two off-duty arrests in February 2001 at the South Austin apartment complex where he lived. On Feb. 10 Enlow arrested a man dealing 41 grams of crack behind an apartment building, an arrest Knee said Enlow should not have made.

"What I'm saying is that as best I can recall, according to the investigation, Mr. Enlow saw something that required police action," Knee told the arbitrator. "He drove across the street where the four individuals were, two of which had moved around the side of the apartment. What I am saying is, we have a policy that restricts off-duty [actions] simply because we want our officers to be good witnesses. We don't want them to engage in checking out suspicious activity."

"How do you become a witness if you don't check out suspicious activity, chief?" asked Enlow's attorney Mike Rickman.

"Well, you call the station," Knee answered.

A little later Rickman asked Knee for further clarification on this police-as-witness policy: "So when an officer in the Austin Police Department is off duty, walking down the street, and he sees suspicious activity ... he's just supposed to turn around, not look at it, and go call the police department; is that correct?" Rickman asked.

"That's correct," Knee answered.

While the department struggles to explain why Friar is a hero but Enlow a scoundrel, Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield feels the issue is clear-cut: "We believe it is absolutely appropriate for officers to take action while off duty when they see an incident occur," he said. "I think that's what the citizens expect and what they demand of us as officers."

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