It’s not uncommon here in Chicago to find a nice little restaurant where you can feel comfortable having your lunch break, breakfast, or dinner. The staff is friendly towards the police, the food is good, and they are reasonably priced. There may be a little corner where you can sit out of the way, so no one interrupts your meal and you aren’t exposed to all the dirty looks.
The problem is… you have to keep it to yourself and not tell too many other officers. If you don’t, sooner or later one of them is going to abuse the hospitality. He or she will complain about the food, making a big deal out of a minor issue. They might tip the staff poorly. They might be rude to customers or waitresses.
I’ve seen places where the word spread that they were police friendly and before you know it there were units from all over the city jamming the place. Regular patrons could no longer get seated and started going elsewhere. That wasn’t good for their business.
Even though you weren’t the offender, eventually you will find you are no longer welcome. That corner booth is no longer available to you. The endless coffee fails to flow so freely. The staff begins to give you the cold shoulder. Someone abused the privilege.
I once worked in a district where the desk crew regularly ordered pizza from a local restaurant. Since they were good customers and always ordered several at a time, they got a discount. Well, one of the officers who didn’t work the desk heard about this and for his daughter’s birthday party he called in an order telling the restaurant it was for the desk. He put on his uniform and went to go get the pizzas. He made sure he got his discount and came home.
The desk crew called in an hour later and ordered four pizzas. They were told their officer just picked up the desk pizzas. That ended the discount.
It isn’t just restaurants and discounts where we do ourselves the most harm. The way we deal with the public can do us damage. I’m sure you have all seen the officer who pulls over the traffic offender and then treats the driver as if he personally insulted the officer by rolling through the stop sign. I was guilty of that until my FTO pointed out my mistake. I have shown almost every recruit I trained how they were doing damage.
As I approached a car I stopped, I always smiled and greeted the driver politely. Usually, I would say something like “Good afternoon,” or “Hello, how are you today”. If nothing else, it helped keep the driver off guard and gave me the upper hand in our conversation.
Most of the people we stop for traffic violations are working stiffs just like ourselves. The last thing they need is being browbeaten by a police officer and then getting a ticket that may end up costing them several hundred dollars in fines and lost work to go to court. Sure, they violated a traffic ordinance, but it is the judge’s job to give the verbal dressing down – not yours. Your job is to send them to court.
I often got a “Thank you Officer” or “Have a safe day” when I finished with the driver, even when I had just written them a traffic ticket that might cost them hundreds of dollars.
Now I don’t care how you respond to a car of gangbangers. You do what you must to stay safe. But with working people, you might be the only interaction they ever have with police. I hope they come away from it thinking there is at least one police officer that isn’t the asshole the media makes them out to be.
I had an officer who once worked for me. He’d been shot by a gunman and was lying on the curb. A woman who had never met the officer shielded the injured LEO, so the gunman fled without giving the officer a killing shot. When interviewed, the lady said the police had always been good to her and this officer needed someone to help him. I’m very glad this woman’s last interaction with the police hadn’t been negative.
I’m certainly not advising officers to become all soft and cuddly. You don’t have to exchange FaceBook friendships with the people with whom you interact, but it might be wise to not be a jerk to everyone. Crack a smile. You don’t have to mean it. There’s a time and place for giving the lecture to traffic offenders, but you might want to take it as a challenge to see how many people thank you at the end of your traffic stop.
Stay safe everyone. Run low and zigzag,
Robert Weisskopf (Lt. CPD. Ret.)
P.S. You can find all my articles published in Law Enforcement Today by following the links at https://bobweisskopf.com/l-e-t-articles/