No good deed ever goes unpunished is a phrase that I first heard as a newbie while working with the time-worn, cynical, midnight shift sergeant one night when my FTO called off. "How uncaring," I thought in my naïveté.
Currently, I am on the street now with great frequency working as a trainer. Since I'm a certified officer, I usually provide cover or assistance as needed when I ride. However, it has been a couple of years since I was in my own uniform, working solo as a patrol officer. The words of my crusty old sergeant have often been too close for comfort.
"Could you just give me a warning, officer?" is a question that is often presented by an errant driver in the hope of avoiding a traffic citation. The vehicle registration may have expired. The insurance has lapsed. There is a warrant from Detroit for an unpaid traffic ticket (they never pickup anyway, I think to myself).
The driver has a list of excuses that almost sounds rehearsed:
- I am trying to get my life back in order.
- I have been out of work and cannot afford to: 1) pay the ticket; 2) renew the tags; 3) pay the insurance.
- I just got a job and plan to start squaring things up with my first paycheck.
- I have got kids/a family at home that I'm trying to feed.
The driver has an apologetic attitude and pleasant demeanor which pull at my sympathy strings. I ponder what the right thing is for me to do each time.
Some guys - especially those of you in traffic - do not give breaks (so it's rumored). Ever. "If I stop my car or get off my bike, I am writing a ticket. Period." So goes the mantra.
Wise or otherwise, I'm not that rigid. Statistics show that nationally, 41% of traffic stops result in a warning, i.e. no ticket. Remember: that's a statistical average.
I pulled over a car for speeding: 55 in a 40. The driver asked if I could give him a break. He couldn't afford the cost of a 15 over speeding ticket. He just didn't have the cash. He seemed sincere. Instead, I wrote him a ticket for no seatbelt. No points on his record and a very small fine. It seemed the charitable thing to do.
He promptly went to the station and made a complaint: According to the driver, I had stopped him because he was black. The fact that black people comprise about 90% of the community population seemed to be lost on him. My sergeant threw the guy out the front door.
On another day, at roll call, the sergeant said that there had been complaints from merchants at our largest strip-type shopping center. Cars were parked in fire lanes. Handicap spaces were be used improperly. So he told me to give it special attention because it was in my area. With a shrug, I headed out on to my appointed duties.
The shopping center has brick pillars spaces about twenty feet apart that support a roof over the sidewalk. There were some 15-20 of them along the entire expanse. On each post is a large sign with red print, NO PARKING, STOPPING OR STANDINIG. FIRE LANE
I was in a fully-marked patrol car. I pulled up behind an unoccupied vehicle parked right under such a sign, turned on my overhead lights, ran the tag, and exited my vehicle. After confirming that there was no one in the subject vehicle, I returned to my car to write a ticket.
Just then, the owner emerged from a nearby store, realizing that she was about to get written recognition for her parking acumen. She approached, I emerged from my car. She said, "Officer, can you just give me a warning?" My response: "There are some 15-20 warnings here. Each post has a sign on it that warned you not to leave your car here. You ignored those warnings. I'm not going to give you another," I concluded.
She continued to plead her case that she could not afford the $200 fine for parking in a fire lane, being a single parent. I took pity on her and wrote a simple parking ticket. The fine was probably $20, which was a substantial break. I felt good about helping her out, hoping that she had learned her lesson.