Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Good Cussin'

It seems that the Gates-Crowley-Obama incident has opened a national conversation on police powers, arrest, free speech and the role of the Presidency in addressing local issues.

You can find the facts of the case just about anywhere, and Instapundit has linked to a number of articles on the conversation. His latest link is to an article by some clown named Silvergate, who addresses the Constitutional issues. Silvergate puts some time and energy discussing the pertinent law and discussing why the police shouldn't get upset when confronted by Constitutional Speech. He's right. We shouldn't get upset.

If there's one thing I've learned in 28 years of police work, it's this: It's not against the law to be rude. When I arrive at the scene of a call, no one is looking at my face. All they see is the uniform and the badge. I an not a person. I am an automaton, an Agent of the State. While I'm in uniform, I don't have the right to take anything personally. It's my job to uphold the laws and protect and serve the public.

Every cop remembers his Academy. Police academies all over the country put a lot of stress on police officers, training them, hounding them, making them sweat blood and tears. There is a good reason for the stress and the tears. Simply, the police agency wants to make sure that the officer can keep his temper. That he can perform his assigned tasks while someone is annoying him. It's not our job to become angry, or aggravated, it's our job to serve the public. If you're going to lose your cool, the place to do it is in the academy. If you're not cut out to be a cop, then the place to learn that is early in your career.

Here in Louisiana, it's one thing to give someone a good cussing in your own house. I've taken several that didn't result in an arrest. Sometimes it's good to let people vent, to work through their anger, hostility, whatever they're feeling at the moment. In times like these, someone has to be the adult and I'd prefer that it was me. However, the particularities of the law make it illegal to act in a manner that "might reasonably alarm the public" and to
"address any offensive, derisive, or annoying words to any other person who is lawfully in any street, or other public place; or call him by any offensive or derisive name, or make any noise or exclamation in his presence and hearing with the intent to deride, offend, or annoy him, or to prevent him from pursuing his lawful business, occupation, or duty;".
It's a misdemeanor that can result in arrest. So, if I'm taking a good cussing in a house, I can ask the excited person to talk with me in the front yard. If they follow me out and continue the tirade, I can arrest that person. The District Attorney might later dismiss the charge, but that doesn't mean that the charge was not valid on its face.

Police work is emotionally tough, and it's hard sometimes to remember that the anger a person shows to police officers isn't personal. All they see is the uniform, the badge and the gun. Many times I've had interactions with a person and later encountered them on the street. They didn't recognize me; had no clue who I was. When I was talking with them as a police officer, they never looked at my face. I was simply a faceless public servant with whom they wanted as little interaction as possible. I understand that. Some of those interactions were pleasant, some were not.

Yet, as angry as the citizen might be, whatever the provocation, I'm expected to keep my temper and limit my comments or actions to whatever the job requires. No more, no less. That defines the ability of the police officer.

Understand, this isn't to judge Sergeant Crowley. By all accounts, he is a fine, upstanding police officer. I wasn't there, and even though I've read his report and read commentary from the other side of the incident, I still don't know everything I'd like to know before I make a judgment. I'd like to drink a beer with Sergeant Crowley. I bet we'd share some stories, some experiences that the average American citizen simply can't comprehend.

I love my job, and I'm convinced that I'm better at it than a lot of people. I love cops and enjoy interacting with them all, because we share a common bond. Police work has been good to me over the years, allowing me to raise a family, experience life and see all the good and evil that we as a society are capable of.

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