The Weight of the Badge

I took a couple of weeks away from the blog, mostly because I didn’t have anything appropriate to post for 9/11 and because I have been otherwise occupied caring for my wife after a surgery. Those are my excuses and I’m sticking to them. But I decided I’d better get back to the four or five people that actually read this blog. Thank you, by the way. Anyway, there are times that are more difficult than others to do the right thing.

As a University police officer, I was taught that citations are part of the educational process. If I discuss the violation with the motorist and it appears that they understand what the violation was and why they had been stopped, that was a warning. If they did not appear to understand that they had committed a violation and just wanted to argue with me, clearly, a judge would be the next appropriate level of instruction. Off-duty police officers, in my experience, tend to know how to respond to a stop; they admit their error, apologize for the violation, apologize for wasting my time, and then provide their driver license, registration, and insurance. Usually, their driver license is near their police ID, so I can see it. Would I have given them a citation if they were not police? Probably not.

However, on a particular morning, I stopped a car driving 45 MPH in a 25 MPH zone, in an area where many students lived and was a significant pedestrian crossing area. As I approached the car, the driver put his hand out the window holding a badge on a belt clip. At first, I thought it must be someone that I knew playing a joke on me. When I realized that this was not someone I knew, as a supervisor, I was immediately offended that he believed that this would cause me to simply turn around and go back to my car and that he thought simply holding his badge out the window was an appropriate response. He was young, probably very new, and smiled at me, smugly, as I walked up. I asked for his driver license and other documents. He told me that the badge was all I needed. I took it from his hand and saw that it was from a nearby suburban department, that I knew would not tolerate this kind of behavior. I removed the badge from the belt clip and returned the belt clip. I kept the badge and told him he was free to leave.

He demanded the badge back as it was his property and he would arrest me for theft (at this time, I realized that he didn’t know that university police, in California, are State police with full law enforcement authority). I told him that the badge belonged to the (we will call it) Junction City police department and that I was going to return it to the Chief of Police with a letter explaining how I came to be in possession of it. I could see from his face that he was now near panic, that this was not how he had imagined this incident would go and was trying to decide how best to address this situation. He started to exit the vehicle and I shut the car door on him. HARD. I asked him how bad he wanted this incident to go, because he was either going to drive away, go to jail, or go to the hospital. His decision. He thought very hard for about thirty seconds, which is a long time in Hell. He decided to drive away.

I mailed the badge back to the Chief of Police with a very polite letter, like I said I would. I received a nice letter in return from a department commander letting me know that the officer’s version of events was wildly different and that he was released on probation following a brief investigation. Seems to me that it was for the best.