Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Enforcing Traffic Laws

This is an article that I had hoped would never be written. As a former law enforcement officer, and having had relatives die in the line of duty, the subject of law enforcement is very close and dear to my heart.  I will always cherish every one of my experiences as a law enforcement officer.

When I was growing up in Alabama in the 1960s, I had few opportunities to know, or come into contact with, many law enforcement officers.  I had a cousin that was an Alabama State Trooper and once had a neighbor that was a trooper.  A distant uncle was once a sheriff.  My first 'brush with the law' resulted in my first speeding ticket in the early 1980s.  What I do remember about law enforcement officers of my youth was the immense respect shown to them, even by those on the 'wrong side' of the law. 

Even the TV shows of that time period glorified law enforcement.  Popular shows such as 'Dragnet', 'Streets of San Francisco', 'The Andy Griffith Show', 'Adam-12', and 'The Rookies' exemplified the offerings of the day.  Of those, it was 'The Andy Griffith Show' that perhaps had the most impact on me, but I wouldn't realize that until much later.  At the time I had little idea of what law enforcement officers experienced in the course of their duties.  That would change, too.

In the late 1980s I was encouraged to apply with my county's sheriff's department by a friend of mine.  Until that time I had never considered becoming a law enforcement officer.  Less than 6 months later I took my oath and began wearing a badge.  That experience changed my life forever.

In the years since I first put on a bullet proof vest and badge, I have seen many changes in the profession, both in technology, and in the way many individuals today view law enforcement officers.  I've been a witness to the worst....and best...that our society has to offer.  When I first began, 'crack' was just beginning to hit the streets of America.   When I left law enforcement, 'meth' was just beginning its rampage....one that continues today.

During my stint wearing a badge I've known dozens of really 'good' law enforcement officers.  These officers truly wanted to make a positive difference in their worlds.  These were, and are, the officers, that as parents, attend school functions, visit their childrens' teachers on 'Parent/Teacher' nights and love their country. These are the officers that hug their children and kiss their spouses before leaving to begin a shift, not knowing 'IF' they will see them again. 

I've also known law enforcement officers that managed, and still do, to give the rest a 'bad name'.  Some  of these officers are bullies.  Some are adrenaline junkies.  Many are prior servicemen that haven't managed to successfully reintegrate back into society in the 'peacekeeper' role.  Some are simply 'burned out', having borne witness to too much of the evil that mankind too easily inflicts on the world today.  Some take refuge in a bottle.  Some take out their frustrations on the general public....or their own families. None should be wearing a badge.

I am one of the fortunate ones, I guess.  I took my oath seriously.  I genuinely desired to make a difference in my community.  I strove to treat everyone I came into contact with as a human being first.  How they responded determined what course of action I took from that point on.  There is a lot to be said for 'attitude'.

I could go on and on, but I want to touch on what is troubling me with today's law enforcement, in general.  Public sentiment is always going to play a role in how officers feel about their profession.  As a whole, the law enforcement community deserves to be respected by the communities they serve.  However, this respect isn't given.  It's won.  It's won by officers doing their jobs as professionals. 

While some aspects of being an LEO can be 'glamorous', it is the most routine of duties that serve communities best.  These are patrolling and traffic enforcement.

Deliberate, methodical patrolling by officers has the greatest, most immediate, and most far-reaching effect on deterring criminal behavior.  However, it requires that the officer 'be seen'.  It requires diligence on the officers' parts, and that can't be accomplished if the officers spend the majority of their time at headquarters.

The other area having the most immediate impact on a community is traffic enforcement.  Speed kills.  Reckless driving behavior kills.  Disregarding traffic control devices kill.  Failure to comply with child restraint laws kill.  Yet law enforcement officers today seem to have an aversion to enforcing traffic laws. Why is that?  Is it because they have been advised by their superiors NOT to enforce such laws?  Are they 'too busy'? If so, that should be easy enough to verify by looking at their 'shift reports' (which are a matter of public record).  Or is it that they no longer 'care'?  Whatever the reason, the communities should be outraged.

In closing, the officers that daily rise to confront an uncertain day, determined to do their job with respect and dignity, will continue to have my most sincere and eternal gratitude.  For the others that are wearing the badge and uniform for 'the wrong reasons', and resist their sworn duties, you have my contempt.


Rebuttal: Early last week an acquaintance of mine received a phone call from the proprietors of Gingerbread Antiques.  He was informed that Gingerbread Antiques was being forced to close.  Their only option to remain open was to come up with $6K/mo in rent.  Only a few days earlier, the proprietors were discussing expanding the business by opening up the third floor.

Let your readers decide who is being honest.

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