From time to time people will write into the local newspapers and express their disapproval of the local law enforcement personnel. Usually, almost without fail, these complainers have been issued a ticket, most often for speeding. Most of the time they even admit that they did the crime but are howling mightily because they don’t want to do the fine.
Now in the interest of full disclosure, I should explain that I have served as a law enforcement chaplain for 24 years. I have served the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, the Senoia Police Department, the Atlanta Division of the FBI, and the Peachtree City Police Department (where I have served for 24 continual years).
In addition, I am a graduate of the Fulton County Public Safety Training (where I was also a chaplain for 10 years) and am a certified peace officer in the state of Georgia. I have served two agencies as a reserve cop. My oldest son is also a cop.
Here’s the simple truth — people get tickets because they break the law. There are reasons for the laws of the road and cops don’t make the laws. They are, however, mandated to enforce them. Police officers do have some discretion: (1) they can issue a verbal warning, (2) they can issue a written warning that carries no penalty, (3) they can issue a ticket that will normally result in a fine, (4) they can take the law-breaker to jail.
Yes, you can go to jail for speeding or other traffic violations if the officer so chooses. Most of the time, only the first three courses of action are taken.
Once, however, I was in the police car when an officer took a lady to jail. When she was pulled over, she immediately began to yell, curse, and berate the officer. The officer remained professional but, after several minutes, he told her to be quiet. Then she really began to make a scene and used words I hadn’t heard since the Marine Corps.
Finally the officer said, “If you say one more word, you are going to jail.” She got in his face and called him a rather vile name that mentioned his mother and suggested that he do something to himself that is not physically possible to do. He spun her around and slapped the cuffs on her.
Amazed, I asked, “What is she being arrested for?”
His reply, “Speeding.” I determined always to be polite to police officers whenever I got pulled over.
And I do get pulled over once in a great while. But, when I do, I never blame the officer. I blame myself for being careless or inattentive or stupid and putting myself in a position where my actions might cost me some money.
Yet, there are, apparently, people who believe the laws do not apply to them. Almost every person who drives above the speed limit, or runs a red light trying to beat the yellow light, or makes a “rolling stop,” which is no stop at all, at a stop sign knows what they did. Then, when they get caught, they blame the officer. Well, as Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
After 24 years of doing ride-alongs, I have seen that most people accept responsibility for their actions, pay their fines, and — if they are wise — try not to repeat their offense. I have also observed people who treat the officer as is he were someone beneath their contempt. I have seen many civilians act like idiots but I have never seen an officer behave like one — not even once.
So, if you break the law, don’t bother asking the cop, “Why aren’t you out catching a criminal?” He just did. He bagged you.
And, if you want to rant or rave or whine about it, that’s your right to do so. I will exercise my right to ignore you.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]