Sometimes You Outrank Them All

Many years ago, when I was a young officer, only about two years on, we had a presidential candidate come to campus and give a speech. Most of the university police officers were assigned to the actual event which was a few blocks from the police station. I was the sole officer assigned to patrol, which made me the Watch Commander. I had been given very specific instructions to handle everything that I possibly could myself. I was not to call for backup from the officers on assignment unless it was an emergency. Also on campus were many officers from the large, metropolitan police department that surrounded the university, as well as agents from multiple federal agencies.

I was assigned to meet the victim of a crime at the police station to take a report. When I drove into the parking lot, I saw that all of the spaces were taken by city police cars. Hmmm. So I pulled up and carefully chose a spot that only blocked two of the city police cars in their spaces. I hopped out, told dispatch that I had arrived at the station to contact the victim and walked up to the police station.

“Hey! You!”

I turned around and saw a city police sergeant, with six service stripes on his sleeve (meaning that he had already worked for thirty years and was still on the job) pointing a finger at me.


“You need to move that car. I can’t have my guys blocked in, in case they have to respond to an emergency.”

I nodded. “I understand. Same with me. Why don’t you move one of your cars out of a space and block your own vehicles in (all their cars are keyed alike, so any officer can drive them), then I can park in the space and do my job.”


We stood there looking at each other. I could tell that he wasn’t happy with me.

“I’ll be inside taking a report, just let the dispatcher know when I can move my car into a space.” I turned to walk into the police station.

“Hey, you need to move your car. Now.” This time, when I looked at him, I could see that he was literally shaking in anger.

“I said I would move my car as soon as one of your officers vacated the space. Until then, I will be inside taking a report.”

The sergeant was nearly apoplectic now. “I want to talk to you Watch Commander, right fucking now.” (In his agency Watch Commanders are lieutenants, in my agency it was the most senior person on the shift).

“Yes, sir. I’m the Watch Commander. How can I help you. Would you like a complaint form?”

We had now travelled to a world that the sergeant didn’t understand. His face turned red, but I couldn’t tell how much was anger and how much was embarrassment when he realized that he held no sway over me. We stared at each other for a moment. He didn’t say anything else so I went inside. While I was talking to the crime victim in our briefing room, a city officer knocked and poked his head in the door.

“Hey, we’ve made a space for your car. Think you can move it before the sarge strokes out?” He smiled. A genuine smile.

I excused myself from the crime victim and moved my car into the empty parking space.