Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Deuce Really Was The Man

In my previous post I described how Harvard Professor Louis Gates and President Barack Obama think, because I'm white, that I'm The Man. For two years I really was The Man, volunteering as a reserve police officer in my home town. I wore the uniform, I wore the badge, and I wore the gun. I had full authority to make arrests. The only difference between me and regular police officers was that I was unpaid. I want to tell you all something...when you're wearing the badge, the sense of responsibility is incredibly heavy.

In my previous post I said, "I love it when assholes get arrested." That's still true. But I said that as a civilian, with no duty or responsibility to enforce the law. When I was a cop, I never had a situation occur where I was in a hurry to arrest anyone, no matter how big an asshole they were being. If anything, I felt a necessity to be more lenient than a good cop would be. By lenient, I mean not arresting them. But I didn't mean I didn't want to get physical with them... which is one of the reasons I ultimately resigned after two years of service.

When I was a cop, my best friend at the time, a regular paid cop, asked me why I didn't apply to join the force as a regular officer. I told him, " You guys have to take too much shit. I don't think I could take all that shit and keep my cool...I'd do something stupid." What I meant was that I might not arrest someone for being an asshole, but I would want to fuck them up a little. In my mind, arresting someone was a big deal...cuffing a loudmouth drunk to get their attention and facilitate their obedience was not. An arrest meant the perp was cuffed and stuffed and taken to jail for booking. It meant the perp had to make bail if he could, had to hire a lawyer if he wanted to fight the charge, had to miss work for days or weeks and potentially lose his job. If I could put a knot on his head and make him shut up enough to listen to reason and possibly avoid arrest, that seemed to me to be the better of two bad choices in most of the situations I found myself in. I still think I had a big city cop mentality in a small town. Those two don't go together very well.

My buddy replied that as a cop, you take as much shit as you're willing to take. Some officers take a lot of shit before they drop the hammer and arrest someone for 'disorderly conduct', or 'interfering with official acts' or 'public intoxication'. What he said was true. My friend took a fair amount of shit from the public...more than I wanted to. Another officer on our small force took no shit what so ever and would arrest someone for one of the above named offenses at the drop of the first "fuck you!", or when someone was too slow in obeying his orders ( cops are authorized by law to give you orders which you must obey or be subject to arrest...most adults don't respond well to being given orders ).

Police officers have a huge amount of discretion in how they do their jobs. The Gates event is a perfect example. The cop could have held Gates at gunpoint and cuffed him before he started asking questions. When cops aren't sure what the situation is and the person they're dealing with is being uncooperative and belligerent, they often will cuff that person "for every one's safety" until they figure out what is going on. Their not kidding when they say it's for every one's protection. An uncooperative man in cuffs is generally no threat to the cop or bystanders ( like wives or children who may be present ), but the same man uncuffed could be a significant threat...could be high on God knows what...could be mentally unbalanced...could be a convicted felon on parole who's facing a third strike should he be convicted of another felony. The cop just doesn't know. Ultimately the cop goes with his instincts and his training. Better to cuff an innocent man while you're figuring things out than not cuff him and end up shooting him when he rushes at you with fists raised in anger. Gates got off easy.

Not too many years ago I was pulled over by a deputy sheriff. I was seven mph over the limit. I had my two kids in the car, teenagers at the time. When I got my car stopped I told my kids to keep their hands in plain view and to sit still. I kept both my hands on the steering wheel until the deputy asked for my drivers license and registration. While the deputy was in his cruiser running my info ( checking for wants or warrants and probably checking for prior traffic violations ) my kids asked me why I told them to sit still with their hands in plain view. I told them, "because he has a gun, and I don't want him to feel threatened."

I was a white cop when I said that.

Gates wasn't "profiled" as a black man...he simply acted like an asshole. You may think that being an asshole isn't against the law, but the fact is that being an asshole may be against the law depending upon the situation...and the cop who's dealing with you.

As I said in the first post, if you're going to fight a cop, fight him in court, not on the street. In court you have a chance. On the street you have no chance at all. So be smart, and live to fight another day. Cops just want to do their jobs. If you're innocent of any crime, be cool, do what the cop says, and 99% of the time you'll be on your way in a few minutes, no harm done. Do what Gates did, and I can just about guarantee you a bad day...regardless of the color of your skin.

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