I graduated from law enforcement school in 1982. At one point in my life, and thankfully a very brief point, I actually worked for the Idaho State Police.
Back when I went to school, we were taught not to write "chicken shit" tickets. We were taught to enforce the law to the spirit rather than the letter. By adhering to that rule, I never stopped a person for a traffic offense where in good conscience, I couldn't write the ticket. I didn't want to parade a bunch of crappy tickets in front of the local judge.
I did not make "pretense" stops...stopping motorists for one thing and then looking for another, more serious offense. Sometimes those things just happen.
So in that sense, we own our work and we make our own reputations.
This arcane idea, enforcing the law to the spirit, has forever been lost to the Idaho State Police. They have become one of the most chicken shit law enforcement agencies in our state. Two years ago, in the middle of the boondocks, I was written a ticket for 74 MPH in a speed zone that was previously posted 70, back in the days before the oil company manufactured fuel shortages of the late 70's.
So that is my belief system. If you are going to stop me for something as chicken shit as a couple of miles per hour over the speed limit on some vacant major Boise thoroughfare at midnight- you aren't going to like what I have to say to you. And that's where this story begins.
I work about 20 miles from Boise and I get off at 11 PM. I ride my motorcycle during the summer and last night was no exception. Last night was weird. On the commute home, people were driving under the limit, pulling out in front of me, failing to maintain lanes. One of those nights when things just aren't unfolding right, if you know what I mean. I stopped at Walmart, bought a ton of fruit and vegetables, and had planned on meeting my gal at midnight. And as I was going home, I saw it. An Idaho State Police car on Overland at Orchard. We were both waiting for the light. I was eastbound and he was westbound. We are the only two vehicles at the intersection, on the road for that matter.
A problem with motorcycle speedometers is that they are hard to read at night. The other problem is that the indicator peg is about as wide as the gap between any given number and the next line...on my speedometer- those lines are painted in 5 MPH increments. So if you don't want to greet an Idaho State Policeman- you will try to hold the peg on the indicated speed limit. And after that light changed, I did that. And as I proceeded down the street, I watched as that Idaho State Police car swung a U turn and hauled ass after me.
Now I am no fan of patrol cars doing 65 MPH in a 35 MPH zone just to catch some old man doing 4 MPH over the limit. By law, you cannot break the law unless you have lights/and or sirens operating. It is standard Idaho State Police procedure to never engage overhead lights until patrol officers are directly behind you. The problem with that policy is that technically- cops are in violation of the law any time they break traffic laws to catch up with traffic violators. They do this to avoid pursuits although nobody has really measured whether or not that opinion holds true. In the city environment where I used to work, anytime I was about to break traffic laws to conduct business, I turned the lights on.
So as I parked my motorcycle in front of my house, one ISP trooper lit me up. He was about to meet a rather angry retired cop and receive a lesson on chicken shit stops.
Initially, I was ordered to close my tour pak (trunk, where my groceries were) as he demanded the usual documents. Then he informed me that I was traveling 4 MPH over the limit on Overland and then 6 MPH over the limit... or 26 MPH on a 20 zone on Latah. That was about the time all hell broke loose.
Now I am not trying to be nice with this guy. Honestly, his actions have irritated the shit out of me thus far. So about the time he picks up on my nasty attitude- he says- "what's wrong with you?" That was the part where I told him I was a retired cop, 25 years, and that not once in my entire life did I ever stop someone for 4 MPH over the limit. I told him that this stop was chicken shit.
The truth was and still is, that this guy was making an attitude stop. I had displayed contempt of cop for having seen him and then not driving 5 MPH under the limit. This was the real reason for this traffic stop. He knew it and I knew it. It didn't matter to him that my old blurry eyes and my ill defined speedometer don't work so well anymore. The other problem of course- is that I am not easily intimidated nor am I some cowering and obedient citizen. I have no fear of cops having spent my life around them. So I understand quite well, that I have not behaved compliantly and that he was going to teach me a lesson. This was personal for him. That was his intent. I remember those cops that behave that way- I know a few now.
So things aren't going well and I am having a tough time seeing my stuff- in the dark- in my wallet and its not like this dude is helping me. And he keeps yakking at me. Asking me why I am acting this way. The truth is- I can't tell him the truth. That he is an asshole and that he should move along and find something a little more egregious than old men driving 4 MPH over the limit. But I am still kind of nasty and so he says in a threatening tone, "Do you want me to write you a ticket?" So I tell him, "I'm not sure that I care." So then the conversation turns to drinking. I work in an alcohol rehab unit. The trooper asks me if I have been drinking, I replied no. He then asked me when I had my last drink. He was talking present tense. I replied Oct. 9, 2007. I can't tell you what he was thinking.
Eventually, I apologized to this guy for my rude behavior. Of course, no cop in his right mind will apologize for their rude behavior. More likely, cops seem entitled to act like assholes and this is why- all cops get a bad rap. In fact, this entire episode was the embodiment of why people don't like cops. Of course he didn't write me a ticket- because that was never his intent. The reality is, is that except for a ridiculous speed enforcement team that our state has- most troopers don't stop or write tickets for 5 over or less. I know that. I know this was a "contempt of cop" stop. Troopers are required to make 8 "contacts" per shift- at least that's how it used to be. I was just part of the night's contact quota. I was well aware that the stop was being recorded.
I washed out of the ISP stress academy as a trooper in 1984. The Idaho State Police were rude and arrogant back then- and not much has changed over the years. In fact, they may have gotten worse. I would never have made it in that organization. Very often, I find myself defending our profession. I forget that my idea of our profession is actually stopping and apprehending criminals. Recovering losses for victims. Investigating. Intervening in crisis and emergencies. Protecting people from "bad" guys. Solving problems. Unfortunately, I forget that most peoples' idea of cops comes from traffic stops and contacts like the one I had last night.
It's been five years since I retired. I miss the good ol days. The days of enforcing the law to the spirit are over. Law enforcement has changed. Politicians have learned how to manipulate law enforcement organizations and they do so with a sense of entitlement. Gone are the days when police departments were free to enforce the law fairly- without fear of some small minded politician or political body interfering with the way the department should operate. Some departments have simply become money changers and tax collectors. Or wards of school districts. Reducing cops to meter maids or spotters for insurance conglomerates looking for any excuse to raise premiums. Independence, free from political influence and pressure, is gone.
Policing could be so much better than it is. I see that now. Maybe all of the old retired cops say things similar to that. I'm not sure, it's not like anyone is beating down my front door asking me for my advice. At least I know one trooper who might think twice before stopping the next guy traveling a few MPH over the limit. But maybe not. Nothing much has changed at ISP in 30 years.