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Health is a reason to interrupt a police funeral procession

The Baltimore Sun

Police and firefighter funerals are turning into the topic that just won't go away.

After two columns on the issue of the traffic tie-ups that accompany the motorcades honoring fallen public safety workers, it seemed time to change the subject.

Then Cassie Beatty called.

Having heard mostly from individuals who endured the inconvenience of being stuck in traffic but suffered no long-term harm, I came down on the side of police officers and firefighters in saying their traditions of mourning deserve the public's patience.

But Beatty had a different take on the issue - one that that raises serious questions about whether these tributes are getting out of hand.

The 58-year-old switchboard operator lives in an apartment complex near Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, the scene of many police and fire funerals.

George Beatty, 59, is Cassie's husband of 37 years. He suffers from end-stage kidney failure and requires dialysis three days a week in four-hour sessions.

Cassie Beatty, 58, said that when police and fire personnel stage miles-long motorcades honoring one of their own, she and her husband can be trapped in their apartment complex for hours.

She said that's what happened about two months ago during a public safety funeral motorcade.

Her husband has a standing dialysis appointment at 4 p.m. on Mondays. The clinic closes at 8 p.m. So if he doesn't get there on time, he doesn't get the full dialysis treatment. An incomplete treatment leaves toxins in his bloodstream that need to be removed.

"The fluid backs up. It's harder for him to breathe. He doesn't feel as well. His legs swell," Mrs. Beatty said. "He could die in a day if his fluids build up too high."

With the stakes that high, she and her husband left extra time to get to dialysis before that funeral two months ago. But when they got to Padonia Road, "we waited, we waited, and we waited," she said.

Finally, she said, she left her car to approach a county officer and explain the gravity of the situation. The lawman was unmoved. "He said, 'Get back in your car. You have to wait,' " she said.

Then, the Beattys called 911 to ask that an officer be dispatched to help them get through the motorcade. The dispatcher was no help either.

Finally they asked that an ambulance be sent to get George to dialysis. But before it could get there the procession ended and they were able to drive on their own. Mrs. Beatty said they arrived at the center 30 to 45 minutes late for a shortened dialysis session.

Mrs. Beatty said she means no disrespect to the police. Before his illness, her husband worked as a commissioned security officer at Sheppard Pratt hospital. She said he identifies with the law enforcement fraternity and respects their traditions.

But she loves her husband, whom she's known since he was 5, and she's more concerned about his life than an uninterrupted motorcade.

This wasn't the first time the couple has had trouble getting to dialysis because of a funeral motorcade, Mrs. Beatty said. Nor is this the first time she's complained about the police handling of such events.

She said that after a previous delay getting out for dialysis, she went to the police station in Towson and asked the officer at the desk whom she could talk to about the problems caused by these long motorcades without breaks to let nearby residents out.

"He said 'Nobody. They'll laugh at you,' " she recalled. "He said, 'This is what we do.' "

She said the officer told her she had made him upset and when she left, he followed her out and took down her license plate number.

When asked about the Beattys' plight, department spokesman Cpl. Michael Hill expressed concern. "We would never deny a person who has a medical issue. They just need to communicate with us," Hill said.

Hill said the officer who told Mrs. Beatty her complaint would be laughed at had given her an "inappropriate" response. "No one's going to laugh at her. Our department takes these things seriously," he said.

Told that she had previously spoken to a corporal, who had been nice but wasn't able to solve the problem, Hill suggested that she take her problem up the chain to the commander of the Cockeysville precinct, Capt. Marty Lutz. Captains do have a way of getting things done that corporals can't.

Other people with similar conditions should contact their local precinct commanders before the next motorcade and explain their problems. Be reasonable and respectful, and there's an excellent chance the police will make sure you get to your appointments on time. (If they don't, contact me.)

While Hill's response could not have been better, some of the broader issues raised by these processions remain. It's time for a wide-ranging - and respectful - discussion between local police chiefs and the public about how to continue these motorcades while preserving public health, safety and mobility. Because if the two goals can't be reconciled, it's time for a new tradition.

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