Dear Jane Q. Public:
I recently became aware that you took a few minutes out of your life to send an online complaint to my Department’s Internal Affairs Division because you were upset that I would not listen to your excuses about why you drove through that red light a couple of weeks ago and also because I addressed you in a tone that you thought was less than respectful. You also thought that it was ridiculous that I wrote you an additional ticket for not having your two year old buckled into a car seat.
I’ve been given a copy of the letter because I have to take time that could be used patrolling the streets in order to address the complaints you’ve lodged against me to my superiors as well as to the Internal Affairs Division.
I do remember writing you those tickets, yes. I recall that you eventually said you were sorry that you ran through that red light, but you were in a hurry to get your son from a lacrosse camp he was attending. You were quite pissed off when your apology didn’t make us all squarzies, right? Do you remember how mad you were?
I remember several things that you said and did during the course of our encounter that I mostly ignored, but I’ll go ahead and address them right now.
First and foremost, I remember that you didn’t roll your window down right away while I stood outside your car in the afternoon heat waiting patiently for you to acknowledge me. As a younger officer, standing outside a car like this would have made me feel like a jackass, but I’ve been around long enough that these sorts of passive aggressive actions don’t affect my mood anymore. I will say that it sure looked cool inside your $70,000 Porsche Cayenne. I admit that I was a little bit jealous. You see, the a/c in my patrol car hasn’t worked all summer and my very own ten year old family car has more and more difficulty everyday cooling me down on the drive home from work.
You were quite busy on your cell phone talking to somebody. You were very animated and managed to avoid looking at me for several minutes before you finally rolled your window down just a little bit. That somebody on the other line turned out to be your big deal lawyer husband. Do you remember those were your words to me? When you finally rolled down your window, the first thing you said was, “Here, talk to my husband, officer. He’s an attorney and kind of a big deal in this city.” Oh how mad you were that I didn’t take your phone to talk to him. Your husband wasn’t driving the car and I certainly believed you when you said that you were running late to pick up your son. What was he going to say? You see, it didn’t matter to me whether or not your husband would tell me that he knows the mayor or that he is friends with some commander in my police department or even a police department other than my own. Maybe he would have said that he gives lots of money to Backstoppers to support the families of first responders who die in the line of duty. That may have softened my mood just a little bit, but at the time, I didn’t need or even want to hear any of that.
I remember you telling me that your husband works at a prestigious local law firm and that you work part time as a volunteer at your children’s school. I didn’t ask you what your husband did for a living, or even if you were married. That you would imply that such things matter during the course of our encounter confuses me. I did ask where your kids went to school, because I have kids of my own and I figured you brought it up because you wanted to talk about it. You said that your kids go to a swanky private school many miles outside of the City where we met. You and your family live in one of the wealthiest suburbs in our area, and I recall telling you that I thought it was a nice area and that I’d heard the school your kids attended has a great reputation. You were surprised to hear it when I mentioned that I had family that lived out that way as well.
You also asked me, at the same time you were rifling angrily through your purse for your license, whether or not I had anything better to do than write tickets to tax paying citizens. I heard what you said, but I said “excuse me?” to see if you’d repeat it to my face and you did! You looked right at me and said, “Surely there’s something more important to be done in this City than writing me a goddam ticket!” Whoah, I thought! Using the Lord’s name in vain isn’t necessary, but I assured you that were there something more pressing to be dealt with currently that I’d be there and left it at that. I didn’t even touch the fact that as a volunteer at your kids’ school, you weren’t really much of a tax paying citizen.
Boy you were mad and I could tell you were on the verge of tears. It’s possible that you were trying to make yourself cry because that would surely cause me to lighten up, right? You were fuming as you handed me your license and insurance information. I have to be stoic in the presence of others while I’m on duty, but when I got back to my car to run your information, I felt bad for you. Isn’t that silly of me? You clearly have a pretty charmed life compared to most and I was feeling bad for you a little bit because it was me causing you to be upset. That’s just the sort of guy I am though. I have a soft spot for people in distress, and I’ve given many many many people the benefit of the doubt and let them go with just a warning. I wasn’t in the mood to give breaks on this day though.
I felt less sorry for you when your name popped up with a red notation on my screen as having an outstanding warrant from that swanky municipality where you live. Imagine my surprise to see that it was a warrant for speeding.
I sat in my car for a little bit longer than necessary to suck in some of the luke warm air coming from the vents of my police cruiser and to run some scenarios through my head. I imagined taking you to jail for your warrant and the fit that would have caused you to have! Can you imagine?! I saw you looking, no, you were sneering at me in your rear view mirror as you talked on your phone yet again. You were clearly perturbed. Do you know what though? If I can be honest with you, I was a bit perturbed too and I’d like to tell you why.
My attention was first drawn to your car by the sight of your two year old jumping up and down in the back seat while you were weaving in and out of traffic without using your turn signals. Did you even see me as you passed me? I was doing 35 mph and you passed me right there even though I was in my marked police cruiser. You were doing at least 50 mph. I don’t have radar handy when I’m driving down the street so I couldn’t tell exactly how fast you were going, but other drivers notice such erratic behavior and they were looking at me with facial expressions that said, “Hey, don’t you see that woman driving like a maniac?”
I did see you, just like all the other commuters you were annoyed with having to share the road with saw you. I noticed that the light ahead had turned red and thought that I’d pull up alongside you at the light to tell you to please slow it down a little bit and be done with you, but you had other plans. You drove right through that red light without giving it a second thought. Not only did you not slow down, but you actually sped up to beat oncoming traffic coming perpendicular to you through the green light! Several cars honked at you but you didn’t care. You just traveled on like it was they who were at fault.
Again, those drivers who had to stop for you all looked at me and I could tell their faces were saying, “What the fuck, officer?” I hear you guys I nodded and I turned the lights and siren on to pull you over and that’s when we met.
I remember you well because I remember your bouncing baby boy in the back seat having the time of his life. I remember when I was a lad, we used to jump around in the car like that. That was many years ago though. Times have changed and kids need to be buckled in at his age now. I also remember that he looked a little bit like my own two year old son and even more like another Jane Q. Public’s two year old boy who I met at this very same intersection just a few days earlier. I met him as he lie dying in the back seat of his mother’s SUV, not buckled properly in his car seat. His mother didn’t run the red light that day her baby boy stopped living on this earth, no. She ran into a car whose driver ran the red light exactly as you had just done. Exactly the same!
That was only a few days ago and I apologize that my heart wasn’t interested in listening to your excuses that day. You see, that boy’s little bloodied face and blood stained blankie still haunt my memory. I worked that scene just long enough to have to see a dead baby I could have done without seeing before I was relieved by accident specialists so that I could go onto the next call as though it’s no big deal to see dead babies and then carry on with life.
That’s one of the funny things about this job. We have to put away what just happened, no matter how awful, so that we can move onto the next call. Sometimes the next call is something mundane and our minds are elsewhere. Those next callers deserve our undivided attention as they explain to us how their expensive items that they left in the front seat of their parked car while they were in a bar were stolen. Sometimes they sense that we’re not 100% interested in what they have to say and that we seem to be going through the motions and they call us on it. They call us on it right there on the spot, or sometimes they do what you did and lodge an official complaint, never knowing that it isn’t that we don’t care about their loss, it’s just that we haven’t quite cleared our minds of the loss we witnessed just hours before that still occupies our brains. That face. That blankie. That woman crying, wailing like she was crazy. I bet she was crazy at that moment. I know I’d have been crazy, and I bet even you, Jane, would snap as well.
So to you, Ms. Jane Q. Public, I’m sorry that you caught me at such a bad time. Had we had the same encounter a few weeks before, it’s possible that I’d have listened to your excuses and sent you on your way with a warning instead of writing you tickets that you earned. Does writing those tickets bring dead babies back? No, of course it doesn’t. Will it give the many people who travel through that intersection and see a cop writing a ticket pause next time they approach the intersection as the light turns red? Maybe not. Does writing those tickets help me in some way that may or may not be perverse in your opinion? Yes, it does. If it didn’t, I’d have let you go on your way to get your son, along with your other son. The one who but for chance could have been that boy who’s face put me in such an unforgiving mood on that day.
Please remember that I’m a person too. Police officers are moms and dads and uncle and aunts. We go to your church and coach your kids. This is just my job; it’s nothing personal.
That Officer Who Wrote You Those Tickets