I work for both the Federal Reserve Police Department in Pittsburgh and for a local municipal police department, and I belong to the Fraternal Order of Police. My department claims that we're a federal law enforcement agency. However, after an FBI agent was killed in the line of duty, I wore a mourning band on my badge to show respect, and I was yelled at. The sergeant who yelled at me had never worked as a cop before and doesn't understand the "Thin Blue Line." Should I continue to wear the band to show my respect and risk discipline, or obey the order from a police sergeant who has the mentality of a security guard?
Dear Officer in Trouble,
I imagine the agent killed in the line of duty you're talking about is Special Agent Samuel Hicks. Hicks was murdered in a Pittsburgh suburb on Nov. 19, 2008, while assisting in the service of a drug-related warrant. He was a Baltimore City police officer prior to joining the FBI and was a man of service. Although I didn't know him personally, I know he'll be missed by his loved ones, his community, his country and the law enforcement brotherhood and sisterhood.
The simple answer here would be to say that your sergeant is a moron and we should take him out back and beat some sense into him. That probably wouldn't solve much, but it sure would be fun to teach the guy a lesson. The real lesson here is that drugs aren't worth the life of a single officer or agent, ever, under any circumstances. Dope also doesn't equal a death-penalty case, so we should do our best to avoid putting ourselves into planned events with a high likelihood of violence where suspects may be killed.
"Holy donut eating, fat, lazy cop's belly, Batman! Is Bullethead going soft?"
Yeah, I can already hear you. The answer is no. I'm not going soft. I still think taking dopers to jail is a great idea and plenty of fun. Dying over dope, though, is just stupid, and it happens all too often. With a slight shift in the way we do things, I think we could cut those numbers way down.
Now let's get back to beating your silly sergeant. As much fun as that would be, it is nothing but a simple answer to a complex question, and Ol' Bullethead didn't get into this line of work for simple answers particularly the fun ones that don't really solve anything.
Your situation reminds me of when I was a young Bullethead, arresting all kinds of people and getting into all sorts of arguments with stupid people who didn't understand the law the same way I do. Plenty of cops out there work only in the areas of probable cause or consent. I'm a reasonable suspicion kind of guy. I've studied all sorts of case law to understand what I need to detain someone and what I can do once I have them detained.
I used to get into arguments with people who reviewed my reports and said I was breaking the law and detaining people without cause. Being young, angry, hotheaded and "always right," I would go after these old-timers (many with stripes on their sleeves) with both barrels. I got my teeth kicked in so many times I put my dentist's great-, great-grandchildren through college.
One day, a sergeant I trusted pulled me aside after he heard me going off about how I was right and smart and how the guy kicking my report back was wrong and stupid. The sergeant explained a few things to me: First off, the man with the stripes is the man with the stripes. So telling him he's dumb would only cause me more headaches. That approach also guarantees that whomever you're talking to is going to dig their heels in and not change their mind and they still have the stripes. So in the future, when you bring anything to that boss, you're starting in a deep hole good luck! The sergeant suggested I take a more reasonable approach: listen to what the person is saying and ask if I can show them some case law that says I'm still operating on the right side of the Constitution. I tried it once, and it worked like a charm.
Don't take this guy head-on or you will lose. Educate him about how cops show respect and mourn the loss of one of our own. Point to flags at half-mast and other ways we show respect, and he'll come around. Communicate, don't fight, and you shall win.
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.