This past week, I polled some of my law enforcement buddies to find out some “situations” that have arisen in social settings because of their career choice. I’m certain that doctors, accountants, attorneys and others are cornered at cocktail parties for “a little advice.” Everyone has their own way to handle these circumstances; some are processes that evolve over the years.
For instance, my early years in law enforcement were as a Parking Enforcement Officer–yes, a meter maid. Rest assured, I’ve been called everything. But in uniform at the ripe young age of 21-24, I seemed to be fodder for all the jokes: “Hey, lovely Rita…” you know the song, right? Well, I have a sense of humor, dammit. I laughed right along with them…for a while. When it got tiresome, it became one of those things about the job that I had to ignore. We all have our way of coping.
Take a coffee break, for instance. Picture this: you’re on patrol, in uniform and you’ve taken three burglary reports already. It’s not even 9am. You scan the calls for service on your mobile digital computer and see that you don’t have any pending calls. It’s time for a coffee break! Fifteen minutes of peace and a good cup of java. You’ve looked forward to this all morning. You find your favorite Starbucks, order your drink (you don’t dare order a donut in public) and find a quiet table in the back. You’re sitting there, sipping and checking your email on your phone, when a “Joe Citizen” from across the room meets your gaze. He smiles, you smile back, and return to your coffee.
Then, “JC” is on his feet, motoring toward you. Your return smile was all the encouragement he needed. “JC” pulls up a chair, plops down and says something like, “I’d like to run something by you and see you what you would do…” And, as they say at the races, he’s off! The story is about a moving ticket he got last month from some quota-hungry, gung-ho cop in the next town over. The details vary from each telling, but the point is the same. He got the ticket and he believes he was wronged. When you politely decline to second-guess Officer Quota Hungry, “JC’s” voice grows a little stronger. You tell him that court is his best remedy–that’s what it’s for. It is his chance to convince the judge the ticket was unmerited. You try to explain all the variables involved in assessing the need for a citation, but “JC” doesn’t want to hear it. He wants an ally and at the moment, you are public property.
You aren’t an ally. You can’t be. If you take up his cause, it will be your name the Judge and Officer Quota Hungry hear in court while “JC” is discounting the merit of the ticket. The Judge will be merely annoyed but Officer Quota Hungry and every other cop in the courtroom will know that you didn’t back a fellow cop. It doesn’t matter if the officer was wrong; it is simply not another cop’s place to subvert his judgment.
And, you’ve burned your 15 minute coffee break.
Relieved that dispatch is calling, you turn aside politely, speak into the mike, then tell “JC” you’ve got a call waiting and have to go.
You make a mental note: next time use the drive-thru and sip your coffee at a local fire station.
Technically, you are on the clock while on a break. As a cop, you are always on duty, but particularly while in uniform on patrol, you are subject to being called for any urgent situation.
Another point that needs to be made here is cops bad-mouth other cops regularly–often directly to their face. It is part of the life: you have to be tough-skinned not only for the public but your peers. However, the unwritten rule is, no one, especially “Joe Citizen” can talk trash about another man (or woman) in blue. It’s part of the “brotherhood” mentality which is pervasive, even necessary, in law enforcement. It says, we are all in this together and we have to stick together.
As with everything, there are variations and exceptions, the above is general. When you are reading or writing about a police officer, there are inherent standards of conduct that aren’t written down anywhere. We just “learn” them by modeling, paying attention and listening to the old farts.
Part 2 of this post next week.