December 17, 2007

Hey Officer, Don’t you Have Anything Better to Do?


     This is what you know: You were headed to the store to pick up some milk when you heard a siren chirp behind your car. You peek at the rear view mirror filled with those dreaded red and blues. Wondering what you did, you try to convince yourself that you did nothing wrong. Since you made no lane changes, and there were no traffic signs to disobey since you left your house, maybe the officer’s pulling you over for speeding. But you did nothing wrong. You certainly weren’t speeding. What the heck the speed limit is anyway? Doesn’t matter. You’re positive you didn’t exceed it. The officer arrives at your window.

     “Is there a problem, officer?”

     “As a matter of fact there is, sir. I paced you at fifty miles per hour for the last half mile. The speed limit on this road is thirty. Did you realize you were going that fast, sir?” the deputy asked.

     “There’s no way I was going that fast, officer. You need to re-calibrate your radar gun thingy.”

     “I was using my patrol car, sir. I’ll need to see your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, please.”

     “I don’t care what you were using. I wasn’t speeding. I sure wasn’t going twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. What’s wrong with you cops anyway? This is just a big game to you isn’t it?”

     “Look, sir, you don’t have to get upset. You were going a bit too fast is all. If you’re cooperative, we can get this over quickly, and you’ll be on your way.”

     “Don’t patronize me. I know you have your quota. You like this, don’t you? Why don’t you stop harassing decent citizens? Don’t you have anything better to do?”


This is what you don’t know: The officer stands silent for a moment. Thoughts of what he wants to say conflict with what he should say. What he should say wins.

     “Anything better to do? Well, before I stopped you, I’d just finished investigating a fatality collision. A thirty-one year old woman and her eight year old daughter were killed by a speeding driver who lost control of his car at a curve, crossed the center-line, and hit them head on. I wish I could say they died instantly, but they didn’t. Well, mom did, but her little girl lived for several minutes, spending those final moments crying out for her mommy until her broken, little body gasped its last breath. Was that what you meant by having something better to do, sir?”

     Try to remember, when an officer stops you for a minor traffic violation, what you may see as a trivial task is just one portion of an officer’s duties. An urban patrol officer may have just completed his part in a homicide or rape investigation. A state trooper or rural sheriff’s deputy may have just finished her part of a multiple fatality collision investigation, perhaps involving a child.

     The point is you have no idea of the nature of the call the officer handled immediately before he stopped you. Cops don’t get to go home after, they go back into service. Think about whatever it is you do for a living. Could you go back to work after dealing with a brutal robbery, child molestation, or a vicious rape? Cops do it every day, and, perhaps, it would do us all some good to keep this in mind.


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