What's the deal? I thought getting a discounted or free meal was part of the job, one of those fringe benefits we get for being a loyal public servant. In my town, a half dozen places really want a uniformed cop to come in while working, so they make the meals either free or half price. Trust me, at our pay, it really makes a difference. And the restaurants don t mind because it makes the patrons and employees feel safer.
My cousin is a cop from another part of the country, and he recently took a ride along with me. He went ballistic when he saw me getting a free meal, saying, It s the slippery slope to being on the take. I think he s nuts. How could taking a discounted meal hurt anything or anyone, especially when the owner wants to do it? —Paycheck to paycheck
Wow, where's your cousin from? I'm surprised he went ballistic just because you took some free food. After all, you were just getting what you deserved as a loyal public servant, right? Yeah, that doesn't make any sense to me. He must come from some place where they actually think ethics are important in law enforcement.
You're nuts to even ask this. If I knew your real name and department, I would lateral there just to put a big, solid, ethical, Bullethead boot in your ass and explain a few basic ideas you seemed to have missed while you were in the academy.
Let's start with the public servant part. Mail carriers, members of the military, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, trash men and teachers are all public servants. How many of them get free or cheap food? I'll tell you how many none. I guess you and other ethically challenged cops just work harder and have a more important job than the rest of those public servants, huh? Mail carriers certainly don't have an important job, do they? Do I need to describe all the sacrifices our service men and women make? Prosecutors, public defenders and judges could all make boatloads more money in the private sector. Instead, they ve decided that protecting the public, protecting the rights of the accused and overseeing that exchange is more important than making money working personal injury or divorce cases. Try living without refuse removal for a month and you'll see how important the trash men are. Teachers? Heck, they don t have an important job just the education of our children.
You're right, you certainly have a more important job than all of those people and the rest of the public servants I didn't mention. As important as you are, I can hardly understand why you settle for just half-priced or free food. Why don't you hit up the local car dealer and see if they will give you a car? Maybe you should go down and check out Century 21 to see if they'll hook you up with a free house?
Let's look at that for a second. To whom are you loyal? The entire public, or just the half dozen or so places that provide cheap food? I m sure you're loyal to the entire public, except maybe in certain situations that really don't matter too much if we look at them in just the right big-picture sort of way.
Let me see if I can give you some perspective. You respond to a single vehicle accident with some property damage. The driver is about half liquored up, and he s the owner of one of your favorite free-food places. We all know the right thing to do here is to hook the driver for the DUI, send him to the slammer for the night, conduct a complete and accurate investigation of the accident and the DUI, and forward it for prosecution. Only, as soon as you show up, the driver's frown turns to a smile because he knows he's made plenty of deposits into a police-influence bank account. Our drunken restaurant owner expects a complete hook up, probably including something in the report about an oil slick on the roadway so his insurance company doesn't hit him with the entire fault.
So what's it gonna be? Are you loyal to the free food, or to the oath you took and what your uniform and badge represent? As long as we're asking these easy questions, how about this: If a restaurant owner gives cheap food instead of free food, do they get the same hook up after the accident, or do you rate the amount of discount with the level of police influence it buys?
Now, I'm sure in your big-picture way of looking at this, a single vehicle accident is no big deal no one got hurt and the insurance will cover the property damage, right? But as soon as you make that jump and decide the law is no big deal and your integrity can be purchased for a few french fries, I would say you are no longer on the slippery slope. You have slipped, and you are now on the take. You are worse than those bad cops who just openly take money, though, because at least they know they're bad cops you still pretend you have honor and integrity.
I've got another question for you, Slick: Do the restaurants that give free or cheap food deserve more police protection than the ones that don't? I would imagine the crooks in your town all know where the cops hang out, and so they do their crime at the other restaurants. I suppose those other places could just start lowering their prices when you walk in, and then it would all even out. Boy, that sounds a lot like extortion now, doesn't it? Well, don't feel too bad just because you moved from unethical to criminal. I'm sure no one noticed.
As far as you not making enough money and the free meals helping out, I almost don't even know what to say about that because it's about the lamest excuse for unethical, bordering-on-criminal behavior I've ever heard. Did you check the salary range for your agency before you got hired? If you don't make enough money, pack your bags and move to a higher-paying agency. Better yet, with your ethics, hit the private sector. I'm sure you'll make a great used-car salesman or something like that. Of course, you could just stop buying stuff and learn to live within your means. Whoa, what a crazy idea!
You have two choices: 1) Leave police work and never come back. That's my first choice for you. Or 2), just start doing the right thing. We can't control what the restaurant owners do, but we can neutralize it and, in the process, end up policing the entire city. First, never walk into a restaurant without enough cash to pay full boat for whatever you order. Next, if you order from a counter, pay attention to what they charge you. If you see them reaching for the 50-percent key, tell them you don't mind paying for your food. If they insist on charging you less, stick the rest in the tip jar. That's right, mister ethical wizard, if you order $10 worth of food and the price comes to $5, stick the other $5 in the tip jar. If it's a sit-down place, give the waitress full price plus a tip, just like all the other people eating there.
See, if you pay what the food actually costs, it shouldn't keep you from checking out the other restaurants in the area. Now everyone gets the policing they deserve, and you can go to bed at night knowing you did the right thing. If a place simply refuses to take money, I would just stop eating there. That owner will expect something extra at some point, and it will feel nice not worrying about it.
Last, I suggest you go for a ride-a-long with your cousin at his agency. I imagine you'll end up learning a lot about police work and ethical behavior.
Got a question or complaint?
Let Bullethead hear about it. He ll give you his opinion with both barrels.
E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
or fax him at 619/699-6246.