Allow me, if you will, a small rant.
The age-old police motto that we all know is, “To Protect and Serve.” I want to believe that this is the motive of our police forces. Sadly, their actions speak louder than their sloganeering does.
I can think of one time in my life – precisely one – when a police officer actually protected me from danger. I was driving with a friend in Irving, Texas, near the old Texas Stadium, and a group of guys on motorcycles decided to start causing trouble with us. After one of them cut us off, and my friend (a motorcyclist himself) kept his pickup close to the rear of the bike in front, they began to surround the truck. They started hitting the doors and the windows while the guy in front kept trying to slow us down to force us to pull off the road. There were four of them and two of us, and while we were bigger than they were, I have no illusions that things would have gone well for us. Just as I was about to slam the passenger door into the assailant on my right, a police cruiser fired up its lights and sirens and three of the bikers sped off while the cop chased the other one down. I was relieved that we didn’t have to resort to violence to defend ourselves, because the odds were that we would do everything we could to keep from being pulled off onto the shoulder. The altercation had taken place as 60MPH, and I really didn’t want to add vehicular manslaughter to my record at 18 years of age.
It’s been 16 years since that happened, and I can’t think of a single thing a police officer has done for me or my family that has actually assisted us. Even when Jamie’s mom was murdered, we had to tell the police where to look for her body, we had to find the dental records, and we had to prod the investigation along. Eventually, they did find the perps through ATM camera footage, and I’m grateful for that. But that was detective work. The guys on the case were not beat cops, riding around in cruisers, harassing the innocent.
Am I being too harsh? Maybe. It’s a hallmark of American Conservatism to honor those in uniform, whether military, firefighters, or police. As a civic virtue, I think you could do a lot worse. But harassing the innocent is hardly an overstatement. Police forces are deployed to collect revenue for their municipalities, counties, and states. From what I see, this is their primary job responsibility. If you’re reading this and you haven’t ever gotten a ticket – for anything – you’re in the minority. I’ve only personally ever gotten one speeding ticket in my life, but that’s not the only sort of ticket out there.
Yesterday, for example, After a really long day at work, I walked out to my car to find a ticket from the Fairfax Police Department on the windshield. The offense? I had expired stickers on my VA license plate. Not expired by months, mind you. They were not even two weeks late. And I have, in fact, already renewed my registration. I just didn’t get a chance to put the stickers on yet.
Now, if a police officer had stopped me, I could have showed them my temporary registration letter. It’s in my car. Or, if a police officer had used the laptop that I see in every cruiser – which is used to do things like search DMV records – they could have just seen that my registration was up to date. But that didn’t happen either. Instead, they were trolling around in the bottom floor of a parking garage looking for cars they could ticket. That’s right – I was parked in the sub-floor of a dark garage, and they found my car and ticketed it. I can see the argument that a police cruiser that gets blown past by a high-velocity speeder needs to pull that guy over before he hurts someone. But the activity that resulted in a ticket on my windshield was predatory, plain and simple.
It’s only a $50 fine. I think that’s intentional. $50 isn’t a lot of money. Sure, it’s a decent dinner for my wife and I if we feel like going on a cheap date. It might buy you a new dress shirt or a pair of shoes. But is it really worth taking several hours off of work to go fight the ticket in court, with no guarantee that you’ll win? My time is worth more than that. But in principle, I want to fight this. Because it’s absurd, and obscene.
Just a couple of weeks ago, my wife got a ticket too. She was in what she thought was a 35 mile an hour zone, but it apparently had just dropped to 25 MPH. And there was a cop, hiding in the trees, pointing a radar gun at oncoming cars. I’ve seen this before. Cruisers sitting at the spot where a speed limit changes, just so they can grab you if you’re too slow on the brakes. But at least a police car sitting out in the open reminds you to check for a speed limit change. Hiding in the trees? Again, that’s predatory.
Police don’t seem to like it when their actions are scrutinized. Now they know how we feel. I think a lot of people resent the police. That’s not a healthy business model for the forces of justice. They need people to trust them, not fear them. If they’re doing their job, that’s how people should feel. Safe. Protected. Looked out for. Instead, everyone hides their wallets and looks the other way.
It’s time for a new way of doing things. Unfortunately, as long as the almighty dollar is what’s at stake, you can count on them looking for you, taking the revenue they need by force.
Steve Skojec is a storyteller, writer, blogger, photographer, designer, and sci-fi fan. He is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. He lives in Arizona with his wife Jamie and six of their seven children.