A few months back I was conducting early morning traffic enforcement in the area around an elementary school. Despite my polite and professional demeanor, a couple of people obviously took offense to being stopped, including one subject who used some four letter words to describe what she believed I should to do to myself.
At about 0830, I stopped a polite, well-dressed lady in about her mid-50s who had been driving with only a softball-size hole cleared in the ice on her windshield. I explained the danger of obstructed vision in a congested school zone, issued a citation and asked the driver to scrape the windshield before returning to traffic. Nothing about this traffic stop seemed unique at the time.
The following day I had just cleared a call when my lieutenant asked me to return to the police department to speak to a gentleman there regarding a citation I had issued his wife the day before. As I drove to the PD I began to suspect that the man s wife was the lady who hadn t scraped her windshield. I began to prepare myself for a confrontation.
As I got closer to the PD I began to anticipate the same kind of occasionally angry comments I've heard before. Why are you picking on us? She didn't do anything wrong. You could have been decent and given her a warning. Don't you have better things to do like catch murderers and rapists? I'll have your badge for this. I pay your salary! Never mind the fact that the lady had been too lazy to clean off her windshield and could've run over a little kid on the way to school.
I parked in front of the PD and walked up to the front door. Inside I could see a male subject about 55 years old with gray hair, glasses and a cap. He turned and smiled at me as I approached the glass front door. This guy was already enjoying himself, thinking that he was about to read the riot act to a lowly cop for issuing a ticket to his wife. As I got angry, a quote from one of my academy instructors crossed my mind and tempered the response I was preparing for this guy. If you say the first words that come to your lips, it will be the greatest speech you'll ever regret.
The man stepped toward me, still smiling, as I entered the building. He introduced himself and asked if I was the officer who stopped his wife. I said yes and expected the fireworks to begin. Instead, the man extended his hand and said that his wife told him I was a perfect prince during the traffic stop, and they appreciated my help and concern that morning. I accepted the man s handshake and fumbled for words.
After a final thank you and a smile, the man left the police department as I remained shocked and dumbfounded. No complaint. No sarcasm. No accusations not even any questions. An intense feeling of guilt came over me as I remembered all the professional things I'd been prepared to say and the regrettable things I'd wanted to say when I expected this man was going to chew me out for harassing or targeting his family. I considered how I should ve been more open-minded to the possibility of other reasons for this meeting than simply jumping to a negative conclusion.
Continually Evaluate Your Actions
Negative portrayals of cops are commonplace in movies, television and news sources. How many times have you met someone and had to hear every horror story they have about law enforcement as soon as they find out you re a cop? Sometimes it seems like you could save someone s life, and they would still find something to complain about regarding your response or actions. You may wonder if complaining about cops is the new national past time. These negative attitudes toward police make it is easy to fall into the trap of an us vs. them mindset. We all realize an attitude like that will cause more harm than good and will try to ensnare you throughout your career. What you may not realize is how easily and quietly it can sneak up on you, regardless of whether or not you have one year on the job or 20. You should be able to recognize that attitude developing through your own thoughts long before you begin to treat the public with a lack of respect and professionalism.
Continually evaluate the way you interact with the general public. Handle your calls and cases thoroughly and in a timely manner. Give a reporting party the same consideration you hope an officer would give your family. There are dedicated criminals, and there are jerks who will try to screw you over a $100 ticket. Fortunately, the majority of the populations you serve are decent people who respect you for the job you do, even if they don't understand it or express gratitude. Sometimes it just takes a not-so-subtle clue for a guilty prince to remember that