All in a Day's Work for a Cop

One of the toughest jobs for any police officer is the issuance of traffic tickets for minor violations. It's one thing to stop someone traveling several miles per hour over the limit and remind him of the dangers of speeding as you cite him with a costly document that will reinforce the advice. But the idea of stopping some guy on his way to or from work, to hit him with a summons for not using his turn signal or for an expired inspection tag, makes the officer appear petty toward someone who is not exactly a menace to society. Yes, even minor laws must be enforced, but it's not the best public relations opportunity for cops.

Firemen generally have a better image because whenever you see them, they're carrying a child out of a burning building or posing with local kids on a fire truck and letting the little tykes wear some of the uniform equipment. Although both jobs are public service-oriented and exist for the safety of the people, most drivers recoil at the sight of a police cruiser, but experience no such trepidation when that red engine is spotted heading back to the firehouse.

How often have you spied one of those marked units in your rearview mirror and not quickly glanced at your speed? If you notice that you're a bit lead-footed, you're reluctant to step on the brakes because the officer will notice the red warning lights in the rear. However, if you're casually driving along and suddenly notice a unit coming your way or parked on the side of the road, you might have a sudden impulse to tap the brakes a little just in case you had been a bit heavy on the gas pedal. Then your eyes keep a close watch on the actions of the uniformed driver as you anticipate your possible fate. Will those roof lights go on, signaling for you to pull over?

It's a mental image that could ruin anyone's day. Over the course of twenty years as a cop in New York City, I don't remember ever making a driver happy about getting a ticket. In fact, sometimes the motorist felt motivated to tell me what he thought about a public servant who has nothing better to do than to annoy decent, hardworking taxpayers when he could be locking up drug dealers.  

Well, most cops would rather lock up felons than chase after drivers who might have an inoperable taillight, but if that's all they did, then how long would it take before every car on the road looked like a reject from the demolition derby? How safe would you feel on the roadways if hot-footed speedsters had no fear of those public sentinels with their radar equipment?

It's axiomatic in police work that nobody wants us around until they need us. And Heaven help us if we're not around when they do. The guy whose home was burglarized while he was away on vacation is likely to wonder why the interlopers weren't arrested. "I got five speeding tickets last year from you guys, but when my house was broken into, you cops were nowhere to be found," he might say with biting sarcasm. Perhaps that's because cops are kept busy with jerks that refuse to observe speed limits. I spent most of my police career doing detective work, but during those early days in uniform, I used a lot of time chasing the bad guys.

One hot day in Brooklyn, my partner and I were alerted to the sounds of a woman screaming about a block away. We pulled up to the scene of a bare-chested man holding a machete and moving stealthily toward the frightened young woman, who was lying on the sidewalk with her hands raised to ward off an imminent attack. While my partner got on the radio, I pointed my gun at the would-be butcher and gave him a warning.

His attention turned toward me and he took a few steps in my direction. I cocked my weapon, warned him again, and told him that his future didn't include a third warning. After acknowledging that my weapon was more formidable than his, he sneeringly put the long-bladed instrument on the ground. As was common in such close encounters with homicide, the guy had discovered that his girlfriend was less than faithful, so he had decided to dismember her. He was arrested, and she was grateful to us for keeping her from going all to pieces over the guy.

Later that same day, I stopped a driver for zooming past a red light. As I wrote out the ticket, he exclaimed, "Why don't you guys do some real police work instead of always harassing people?" 

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. E-mail Bob.
One of the toughest jobs for any police officer is the issuance of traffic tickets for minor violations. It's one thing to stop someone traveling several miles per hour over the limit and remind him of the dangers of speeding as you cite him with a costly document that will reinforce the advice. But the idea of stopping some guy on his way to or from work, to hit him with a summons for not using his turn signal or for an expired inspection tag, makes the officer appear petty toward someone who is not exactly a menace to society. Yes, even minor laws must be enforced, but it's not the best public relations opportunity for cops.

Firemen generally have a better image because whenever you see them, they're carrying a child out of a burning building or posing with local kids on a fire truck and letting the little tykes wear some of the uniform equipment. Although both jobs are public service-oriented and exist for the safety of the people, most drivers recoil at the sight of a police cruiser, but experience no such trepidation when that red engine is spotted heading back to the firehouse.

How often have you spied one of those marked units in your rearview mirror and not quickly glanced at your speed? If you notice that you're a bit lead-footed, you're reluctant to step on the brakes because the officer will notice the red warning lights in the rear. However, if you're casually driving along and suddenly notice a unit coming your way or parked on the side of the road, you might have a sudden impulse to tap the brakes a little just in case you had been a bit heavy on the gas pedal. Then your eyes keep a close watch on the actions of the uniformed driver as you anticipate your possible fate. Will those roof lights go on, signaling for you to pull over?

It's a mental image that could ruin anyone's day. Over the course of twenty years as a cop in New York City, I don't remember ever making a driver happy about getting a ticket. In fact, sometimes the motorist felt motivated to tell me what he thought about a public servant who has nothing better to do than to annoy decent, hardworking taxpayers when he could be locking up drug dealers.  

Well, most cops would rather lock up felons than chase after drivers who might have an inoperable taillight, but if that's all they did, then how long would it take before every car on the road looked like a reject from the demolition derby? How safe would you feel on the roadways if hot-footed speedsters had no fear of those public sentinels with their radar equipment?

It's axiomatic in police work that nobody wants us around until they need us. And Heaven help us if we're not around when they do. The guy whose home was burglarized while he was away on vacation is likely to wonder why the interlopers weren't arrested. "I got five speeding tickets last year from you guys, but when my house was broken into, you cops were nowhere to be found," he might say with biting sarcasm. Perhaps that's because cops are kept busy with jerks that refuse to observe speed limits. I spent most of my police career doing detective work, but during those early days in uniform, I used a lot of time chasing the bad guys.

One hot day in Brooklyn, my partner and I were alerted to the sounds of a woman screaming about a block away. We pulled up to the scene of a bare-chested man holding a machete and moving stealthily toward the frightened young woman, who was lying on the sidewalk with her hands raised to ward off an imminent attack. While my partner got on the radio, I pointed my gun at the would-be butcher and gave him a warning.

His attention turned toward me and he took a few steps in my direction. I cocked my weapon, warned him again, and told him that his future didn't include a third warning. After acknowledging that my weapon was more formidable than his, he sneeringly put the long-bladed instrument on the ground. As was common in such close encounters with homicide, the guy had discovered that his girlfriend was less than faithful, so he had decided to dismember her. He was arrested, and she was grateful to us for keeping her from going all to pieces over the guy.

Later that same day, I stopped a driver for zooming past a red light. As I wrote out the ticket, he exclaimed, "Why don't you guys do some real police work instead of always harassing people?" 

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. E-mail Bob.

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