One important value I’m instilling in my kids is the importance of respecting authority. Now, this is bound to bring up some controversy, because some authorities do not behave in a way the deserves respect. However, on the whole, I tend to trust the idea that our society functions best when there are authority figures charged with keeping order, stopping evil, promoting good, and defending justice. Not all individuals in these positions maintain these values at all times, but I think we are far better with these institutions of authority than without.
Along those lines, I particularly want my children to respect police officers. This is partly for their own safety, since noncompliance with an officer of the law can be at best inconvenient and at worst, hazardous to one’s health. I am friends with several officers, but have also been involved in several scenarios that could have been tricky, had respect not been a factor. Here are my last three encounters with police officers, all of which illustrate the importance of mutual respect, which I hope to pass along to my children.
I was driving a rental car during my vacation to Oklahoma. I was a little late, but keeping my speed in check and being careful to mind traffic laws, since I didn’t want the risk being stopped. I had been on the highway about 15 minutes and suddenly a Sheriff vehicle pull in behind me. Just wanting to stay out of the way and get to my destination, I signaled and promptly merged to the right. Immediately, his lights went on, and I realized I was being pulled over. Remembering a few tips from my officer friends, I pulled over, rolled down all my windows, and laid my wallet on the front seat next to me. To my surprise (though probably due to my open attitude), the officer came to the passenger side and reached into the car, smiling. He offered his hand for me to shake and introduced himself, asking how I was. I returned his smile, and answered his questions about where I was headed and where I had been politely. He then gave me a friendly lesson on how I had changed lanes a bit too quickly, and should allow 4-5 dashed lines to pass me by before merging. He said since I was out of town and had been good enough to signal, he’d let me off with a warning. I thanked him warmly, we shook hands again, and he went back to his car.
A friend of mine was recently picking me up at my house, but beat me there. He drives a rather old and loud Suburban. He backed into my driveway and proceeded to wander around the premises, tinkering with my fence, checking some things with a flashlight, etc. Well, my neighbors’ suspicion was aroused, and they promptly called the police after watching him for a few moments. I got home and hopped into his car, where he told me that the neighbors had been staring at him, and he thought they had called the police. Apparently, a police helicopter had even skirted the neighborhood before I arrived. We drove about 4 blocks until we saw a police vehicle, which immediately flipped on its lights. My friend actually remembered that he didn’t have his license on him, which made matters interesting. I encouraged him to roll his windows down, and the officer quickly approached the vehicle. “HANDS ON THE DASH WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!” he said firmly. “Yes, sir!” I replied, complying immediately. He shone his light into the cab, looking for stolen items. “I bet you’re calling about someone being outside my house,” I offered. “Possibly,” he replied. “Where do you live?” I gave him my address. Relaxing a little, he said, “Do you have a license that proves your residence?” I nodded, and, remember my police etiquette, asked permission to reach inside my pants pocket. He relaxed more at this point, and I produced my license with the correct address. He explained some of the oddness of my friend’s behavior, and he flipped his light off and told us to have a great night. I told him I appreciated the rapid response, and we went on our way. (He never did ask my friend for his license, thank goodness!)
In this scenario, I was only a witness, but the officer’s respect for people was evident, and the situation stuck with me. As I headed to work one morning, I stopped in for a fountain drink. The cashier and a local were discussing the fact that a suspicious vehicle had returned, and they were glad a police cruiser was en route. I paid for my drink and went outside, right as the cruiser arrived. The officer was wearing latex gloves (expecting to make contact with the suspect in some way), and the vehicle in question housed a presumably homeless and visibly intoxicated individual, along with his large pitbull. The pitbull immediately ran toward the officer, and the man in the car followed him, his hand in his pants behind his back. I mentally froze, realizing the danger in the situation. A dog was charging, and a suspect was approaching an officer quickly with his hand in his clothing, out of sight. What would happen? Would the dog attack? Would the officer engage with lethal force? Neither. The dog wagged his tail, and the officer put out his hand in a friendly manner. He petted the dog for a moment, then started to speak to the individual in the car. I could feel the other bystanders let out a collective sigh of relief, and I mentally congratulated the officer for having such quick, calm thinking in the situation. I got into my car and headed to work
In each scenario, I was struck by the police officer’s attitude of respect. Also, in most instances, I was able to mirror and even initiate the respectful interaction. The news has been full of negativity lately of police targeting this group or that, or of suspects being wrongfully killed due to noncompliance with instructions. I won’t pretend to understand all of that, and I don’t deny that wrongdoing has occurred. But for my own children, my feeling is that if they behave with respect toward police officers, they will have the ability to defuse many sticky scenarios. A few things I want them and their friends to internalize when speaking to police officers:
- The first few moments of interaction are pivotal. The officer is deciding if you are a threat to yourself, the officer, or others, and any odd speech patterns or behavior cause his or her suspicion to go up.
- The officer wants to home to his or her family tonight. They are looking for weapons every time they make a stop. Make sure you don’t reach for anything suddenly, and if the situation is tense, ask for permission before reaching for something, even a wallet or keys.
- Speak calmly, respectfully, and honestly. The officer has been trained to assess for drunkenness, deception, and aggression. If you honestly give them your input, you will save yourself a great deal of expense and time. I have been pulled over numerous times and never received a ticket. I was honest, remorseful and apologetic if I was in the wrong, and very respectful in my interactions. The officer appreciated the respect, and has let me off with a talk or a warning every single time.
- Bonus: Thank any officers you see for their hard work. They work long hours, deal with people you and I would not want to meet in dark alleys, and are constantly “on”, aware of the dark side of human nature. Thank them, try to understand them, and realize they are people too.
Respect keeps our world sane. Practice particular respect for those who have pledged to serve and protect our communities!
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