Warm fuzzy policing can result in cold hard reality

Morley Lymburner
July 11, 2012
By Morley Lymburner
Motorist “rewards programs” are not new and many agencies across the country have flirted with similar initiatives in an effort to, as they claim, make a difference in road safety. It is, in reality, a disingenuous attempt to place the police service in a warm light with the public rather than anything to do with road safety.

It’s a warm sunny day and, despite stop and go traffic, the motorist feels good about his drive to work. He slows to let in a car from a side street. Friendly waves are exchanged and a smile makes him feel even better about the day ahead.

Suddenly a police car appears in his rear view mirror with its lights flashing and the adrenaline kicks in. “What have I done? Oh no, was it illegal to let that car in? No, it can’t be. I certainly wasn’t speeding, my seatbelt’s on, my car is in tip top shape.” A sickening feeling in the bottom of his stomach unnerves him as he pulls over to the side of the road. “What on earth did I do wrong?”

The officer approaches with a smile on his face. “What kind of masochist is this guy? He is actually enjoying this ... this... whatever it is I have done.”

The motorist busies himself frantically getting out his drivers licence, ownership and insurance papers. “Golly, I hope I have all that stuff here.”

“Do you know why you were stopped?” “I have no idea, officer,” the motorists replies nervously. Allowing another driver to go ahead was a nice gesture, the officer informs him. “I simply wanted to congratulate you on being so polite.”

Now there are various directions events can take from here and since so many agencies see this as only positive, I will play the devils advocate.

Scenario one: “Then tell me officer, why I am now a nervous wreck? It’s because you scared the bejeepers out of me. While you’re at it, would you mind telling me what gives you the right to stop me for doing absolutely nothing wrong? Now listen carefully here officer; instead of continuing in to work I will be going to my doctor to see if I can up my blood pressure medication and maybe get something to calm me down. Then, I’m going to my lawyer’s office, where we will try to calmly sort out what my next steps will be.”

Scenario two: “Well I see officer, but I must confess that I am under suspension and you probably already knew that when you checked my plate.”

Scenario three: (Officer giving court evidence after scenario two). “Well, your honour, I was actually pulling the motorist over for doing nothing wrong – err... actually he was doing something right. Well, actually, it was neither wrong nor right, just polite... and he was so nice, he confessed he was under suspension so I charged him.... err... right after I gave him a gift certificate... which wasn’t an inducement for the confession.”

These “rewards programs” are not new and many agencies across the country have flirted with similar initiatives in an effort to, as they claim, make a difference in road safety.

It is, in reality, a disingenuous attempt to place the police service in a warm light with the public rather than anything to do with road safety. If you need a quick refresher then check out sections 7 and 9, with just a dash of section 10, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

There are long tried and true methods for police to reduce accidents and ensure the orderly movement of traffic. They are, above all, legal and do not place the officer, or the department, in jeopardy of a wrongful detention action or worse.

Police agencies who initiate such programs do not understand, have forgotten or simply do not appreciate the daily perils every officer encounters in catching people doing things wrong. Each stop is fraught with unpredictability and potential hazards. Expecting an officer to now expand this to those doing nothing wrong simply multiplies the potential for things to go sideways.

Police work can be far more appreciated by the public if it keeps them safe in their homes and on the streets. Crime prevention is the number one job of every cop and this is accomplished in a variety of ways. Some are more subtle than others but all are, or should be, within the law.

For police traffic safety is best served by catching people doing things wrong. This has a side benefit of pleasing people who do things right. They appreciate that they never have to talk to a police officer. They really do not have to get friendly with them or thrust their kids up against one dressed in a fuzzy clown suit to appreciate their efforts to keep the community safe.

A cop’s job is not always popular but it is necessary and the public really gets that.

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