To Protect and Serve
So I’m going to write a piece about police officers, and I am not going to focus on aspects of police brutality or latent discrimination. I’m even going to refrain from the easy comedic go-to of donut and fitness jokes. Today I want to question what role law enforcement should play in our society and how they are doing with that mission currently. I think we should start with a story…
Several years ago when I was writing for the Summit Daily in Frisco, Colorado, I was presented with the details of a peculiar incident that occurred in the wee hours of an otherwise quiet weekday night during the shoulder season in ski country. A young man who happened to work in a marijuana dispensary (back when only medical marijuana was available for purchase in the state of Colorado) had gone to the house of a client and, I think we can all safely presume, the two proceeded to smoke their everlasting brains out. They had a couple of beers. They smoked some weed. They listened to Pink Floyd. You know, they did what every other young person in a ski town does on any given evening.
The young man in question decided it was time to go home, and he made, quite surprisingly for the stoner in the room, what we can all agree is the smart decision in this case: he didn’t drive there. He packed up his bong, hopped on his bike and pedaled home. It was 2:15am. No one was out on the roads except for the police officer who decided to pull him over, if you can actually call it that, since the poor stoner was, in fact, riding a bike. Upon noticing the young man’s intoxication, the cop searched his bag and found his bong and weed.
Now the police officer had two ways he could have handled this situation. He could have remembered that his sworn duty is to “Protect and Serve”, recognizing that the common public interest would best be met by throwing this kid and his bike in the back of his car and giving him a ride home. But we all know that’s not what he did. No, this jackass arrested him on counts of driving a bike while intoxicated (seriously- did you even think this was a crime?) and possession of paraphernalia with residue (in a state, mind you, where he was legally smoking marijuana with a medical card). Rather than helping out a decent, though dope smoking, citizen who had made the responsible choice to find alternative transportation home and thus not endanger anyone but himself, he decided to let his ego do the talking instead.
And this is where our police sometimes go horribly wrong. In a world where they are legitimately exposed to the absolute worst of human nature, a daily interaction with crimes most of us would just as soon be oblivious to, they lose sight of the their true stated mission to “protect and serve” the very people they would investigate and arrest. Because so many of the people they deal with are involved in real criminal activity, some officers let their suspicions of everyone dominate their outlook on their communities. They forget that the vast majority of us are good people, and that it is these good people that hire them to safeguard us against the few amongst us who might commit violations against our selves, our families, or our possessions. They are hired by the citizens to “protect and serve” them, i.e to make the community a better place by shaping their actions to ensure the best possible outcome for the community-at-large.
Instead, however, we are far too often viewed as the enemy of the very people we employ to serve our interests. How often do we recoil rather than rejoice when we encounter a police officer? Shoot, I’m a white person who does nothing illegal other than the occasional speeding violation, and I’m still afraid of the police. Now think how it must feel to be an inner city black kid. Rather than embracing their communities so that they can protect through insight and knowledge, police routinely use fear and intimidation to coerce compliance with the law.
A week or so after that incident with the young stoner, I was riding my bike on the rec path that paralleled rt. 9 near our home in Silverthorne. As I rode past the park, I spied a cleverly hidden police car that was taking radar readings of cars going the opposite way. Still annoyed by the incident from earlier that week, I decided I had had it with cops, especially one giving out speeding tickets for no seeming reason. I signaled to every oncoming driver that there was a cop ahead. The police officer was hardly amused.
He pulled his car alongside me, and I braced for the confrontation. I was well within my rights, and I was ready to let him have it. But what happened instead was an eye-opener. I told him about my outrage from earlier in the week, and he told me that he had heard about the incident as well and agreed with me. Some cops, he said, didn’t get what being a cop should really be all about. When he told me that he was sitting here giving out tickets because this location was near a residential neighborhood (in fact, my own) and that there had been too many accidents here due to speeding, I realized that I had been too quick to judge absolutely. Some cops do get it.
In the end, both sides need to learn to appreciate and respect each other better. As citizens, we need to understand that we ask police officers to take unimaginable risk to protect the ones we love. The police, on the other hand, have to remember that they are here to make the world a better and safer place, and that sometimes that is done by just giving the middling pothead a darn ride home.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com