Reassurance to a rookie.
One of my former rookie trainees called me last night, and we had a nice chat. John* has moved on to another department, and has been making a name for himself.
John described a situation that he had the other day, which frustrated him. He had stopped a girl for a significant traffic violation, and had smelled the odor of alcohol. It being a weekend night, he had her step out, and administered the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. As he finished them, another officer with a PBT drove up. My friend hadn't been able to see much in the way of Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, which really is the gold standard of tests. She did somewhat poorly on the Walk And Turn, and One Leg Stand. But it bothered John that he hadn't seen the three clues for each eye. After some thought on the clues that he had, he let her call for a ride
While they waited, he asked her to blow into the PBT (Portable Breath Test device, not admissible in court because of inability to guarantee calibration in the field.). She blew a .21 BAC into a device that he had found to be very accurate, when the results were checked against credible instruments. John was shaken. This "girl" as he kept referring to her, apparently was a professional alcoholic, with almost 3 times the legal limit for blood alcohol content. He had barely been able to show that she was drunk, and had decided that the evidence wasn't good enough to go to court with.
After she was driven away by her ride, John told the other officer what the reading was. The other guy told him that he would have taken her to jail, John said. John felt like maybe he had done the wrong thing.
"Stop right there!" I interrupted. "Your buddy out there-- did he offer to take that woman to jail? Did he offer to do the report? No? Well it's funny what other cops may say they 'would've done,' when they don't have to carry the paperwork. He doesn't know what he would have done if he was in your skin," I said.
"When you arrest a person, you take them to jail, and then you write a charging document in which you list the reasons that you believe that she broke the law. You --not anyone else-- are the man who then signs his name below an oath that you make before God [John is deeply religious], swearing that everything you have said above is the Truth, as you believe it in your heart to be," I continued.
"If you had doubts, then you didn't fully, completely believe it. That's the time to cut. her. loose. Sure, after you've gotten more experience under your belt, you probably would have zero doubt in the same situation in the future. But this time, you had doubt, and you did the right thing. You got her off the road, and you didn't file a charge that you weren't SURE of. John, this is not a bad thing. We'll catch her some other time, trust me."
We went on to talk about other things. He's a good man, and I know he'll make a good officer. He already is one, actually; he just needed to hear it.
* Not his real name.