Monday, April 21, 2008

REPOST: Crossing The Thin Blue Line

One of New York's Finest, setting a fine example....

NOTE: I normally don't repost stuff I've already written, especially after a year has gone by. Then again, I normally don't get a blog comment a full year after I've posted a blog either.

A few days ago I received an anonymous comment on a blog I did that I knew was going to generate some bad feelings from the law enforcement community, but since I myself am a former law enforcement officer I felt that what I had to say was relevant. But this comment was sent to me anonymously, which I think is a cowardly chump's way to do it, especially since all this guy wanted to do was bad-mouth me without just cause. His comment smacks of a young, immature kid with a lot of growing up to do.

Look, I spent 4 years an an MP in the Army. My ex father-in-law's a cop. I have a lot of friends who are current and former law enforcement and I whole-heartedly support cops everywhere. But I don't condone crappy attitudes and flagrant abuse of authority, nor should anyone.

I'm including the original blog, along with the one comment that was originally posted with it, and the comment that my old Army buddy Dan Jeffries posted back to me when I put my blog up on MySpace. The final comment will be from this new anonymous mouth, followed by my final commentary.

FROM APRIL 11, 2007

Last week, while enroute to Savannah, Dougherty County police officer Jeremiah Fenn, aged 25, took his eyes off the road for a second to look at his cruiser’s on-board computer screen. In that second, he rear-ended a rental trailer being towed on Interstate 16. The resulting crash killed 33-year old Milton Wilcox and seriously injured his father. Ironically, Officer Fenn was driving to participate in a safe-driving campaign.

While tragic, this incident doesn’t exactly surprise me. Every day I watch as my local municipal, county, and state constabularies drive about town breaking all manner of traffic safety laws, all the while not only expecting you and I to obey the laws unerringly but also to pay the price for failure to do so.

Roughly 90% of the time I drive past a cop, he or she has a cell phone up to their ear busily yapping away on what ostensibly must be personal affairs, since the officer has that wonderful radio and computer uplink system in the car with which to handle official police business. Roughly 90% of the time I see a police officer make a turn or a lane change, their state-of-the-art police cruiser mysteriously lacks turn signals. And as a rule, our law enforcement personnel drive well above the posted speed limits and will mercilessly tailgate you if unable to immediately blow past you.

And the shining example of New Jersey Governor Corzine's state trooper driver doing over 90 mph (and Corzine not wearing a seatbelt) when they crashed all over the Jersey Turnpike.....yeah, that's setting a great example.

So much for leading by example. The unspoken rule is do as I say, not as I do, for I am the law and therefore above the law. This behavior also extends past the on-duty time and extends to their personal driving too. Many officers take their cruisers home and use them to run errands and take the kids to soccer practice and hit Wal-Mart for toilet paper. It’s common knowledge that apartment complexes and smaller housing developments clamor for cops to live there so that the take-home cruisers will act as some sort of miraculous crime deterrent. Some complexes even give discounted rents as an incentive, which to me smacks of a kickback and conflict of interest. But for those who drive their own private vehicles, there exists a sort of Get Out Of Jail Free Card system that a cop can use to identify their vehicles to others of the community so that they can speed and do as they please at will without fear of retribution or consequence. This system consists of specialized Law Enforcement license plates and the omnipresent Thin Blue Line stickers. The stickers are a black rectangle with a royal blue stripe in the center, and occasionally they appear as a front plate too in states that have only a mandated rear plate. In South Carolina, officers can get a thin blue line sticker in the shape of the ubiquitous palmetto tree. How very clever.

In years past, many folks would donate to various police charities just to get a badge-shaped window sticker in hopes that any cops stopping them for a violation would be swayed into letting them go. This same attitude applies to the use of L.E. license plates and TBL stickers. It’s an Old Boy network at the very simplest level; only in the police world it’s called Professional Courtesy. I say, old chap, you wouldn’t give a ticket to a fellow badge that’s “on the job”, would you? That wouldn’t be sporting cricket…On Easter Sunday I had my doors blown off by a giant SUV with North Carolina L.E. tags who was doing about 50 in a 35. By the time we made it to a 50 mph zone, he was doing nearly 65, and only used his turn signals 50% of the time as he weaved in and out of traffic. He then pulled off the road and into the parking lot of a hotel. So this whole attitude of speeding and only following the rules when convenient trickles over into personal time as well as professional time.

As a former law-enforcement professional myself, it saddens me to see this sort of flaunting behavior. And as a CDL-licensed driver who is constantly being lectured to about safe driving and following the rules, I find it especially galling to think that I could be ticketed by people who by far break more laws daily than I could ever dream of.

Comment by Jay:
I have always been appalled at how police break more traffic laws (and, presumably, other laws as well) than anyone else on the road. It always seemed to me that it should be okay for a police officer to break the speed limit, tailgate, change lanes without signaling, or violate other traffic laws ONLY when they have the lights flashing for official police business.

Police officers are supposed to embody the principals of the Rule of Law - their continued existence means that we don't have government hitmen shooting us in our homes at night for any perceived offense. But the Rule of Law is severely undermined when the agents who are supposed to uphold it act as though they are not themselves subject to it. And when the Law becomes the plaything of tyrants... well, then, we have nothing short of tyranny.

The traffic violations are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but they are absolutely representative of a problem that is endemic to law enforcement in America.

Comment by Dan Jeffries:
I understand where you were going with this blog. As a veteran Law enforcement Officer myself, I too seewhat has been happening. Trust me when I tell you that it is not just your area that this is happening.

Everyone who has ever been invovled in Police work understands that cops don't write tickets to other cops 99 % of the time. It is one of those job related perks, like working in an office gets you free use of the fax machine, or tickets to a hockey game because you do contract work for the team.

The point is this: There is a difference between running 5-10 MPH over the limit because you know that if you are stopped you will not get a ticket, and running 30 MPH over the limit because "How dare they stop me?" attitudes. It is getting out of hand in Indianapolis too. The attitude that "I can do what I want" is there for a reason. It is there because they CAN do what they want. Even filing a complaint with their Department does little good.

Actually, the only thing that worked here in Indianapolis was unmarked news crew cameras started following off-duty, marked take-home police cars and documenting the speeding and doing a big story on it for the TV News. This does take care of it for a little while, but must be done occasionally to keep it in check.

None of this attempts to solve the actual problem though, which is the attitude that goes with this. The older Officers I worked with would not have driven 40 MPH over the speed limit, passed an on-duty guy that was running Radar, and then just wave as he goes by. There was a respect for your fellow officer, which said that you don't put him in a position like that!

So, I understand where you are coming from.

And the comment by Anonymous:
Screw You Steve. You are just one of those GI Joe's that come home and can't get a real police job. I bet your a security guard. Keep up the social injustice crap, and we'll keep giving you tickets, butthole.

Yeah, that's a mature response indeed. My reasons for not going into police work after the Army and Criminal Justice in college are my own and nobody's concern but mine. For the record, I actually gave up a pending job with the Maine State Capitol Police during my divorce and subsequent move to South Carolina. So I'll keep up my social injustice crap, and you keep being hated & reviled for being a lousy cop with no respect for veterans.

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