Better And Better

If you don't draw yours, I won't draw mine. A police officer, working in the small town that he lives in, focusing on family and shooting and coffee, and occasionally putting some people in jail.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The opportunity

I was on patrol, and saw a little car pull through the parking lot of the convenience store to avoid the stop sign. I shrugged, and pulled it over at the next intersection. The driver dutifully pulled off the state farm highway, and onto a residential surface street. I approached from the driver's side, and introduced myself and explained why the driver had been stopped. He began to contest it, but I told him that I would need his driver's license and insurance. He handed over the insurance right away. Huh-- that's what most people have to look for. I asked him for a driver license. He hemmed and hawed a bit, and I asked him if he possessed one. With his palms up, he admitted that his was under suspension.

"Go ahead and step out, Jerry," I told him, as I stepped back from his door.

I could see it dawning on him: I had never asked his name, and he had never given it during this interaction. Yet I knew who he was.

I could hardly mistake those prison tats, and his scars and marks. I had been a jailer who had hated him, once.

"Hate" is a strong word. I don't use it a lot. But I had felt that emotion for this man, whom I had served many a breakfast in his solitary cell. Jerry couldn't be with other inmates, because he stirred up too much trouble. Maybe that was just the way he liked it, and something that he had figured out in the 22 prior stints that he had done at our jail. Jerry was an equal-opportunity criminal, who, in addition to dealing drugs, seemed to be working his way through the index crimes, though he hadn't yet committed murder, to my knowledge. Bored and in a cell all day, George would figure ways to screw with the jailers. Noisy arguments, spreading rumors to other cells (they could talk to each other), false reports about other inmates, false written complaints about jailers-- he did it all and more. And he had focused on being a particular ass to me.

I will tell you that I never retaliated. Not once. Not after having to explain away BS complaints about me (thank GAWD for CCTV and stored video) by Jerry. Not after having been made late going home to write him up (at my sergeant's direction) for starting another disturbance.

So, when I came across him on this traffic stop, I thought, "Huh. This feels like one of those tests which we sometimes have to give ourselves."

I decided not to arrest him for his suspended license. I issued him a citation for Failure To Present Driver License. I did not impound his vehicle. I asked him about drugs in the car, which he denied having. He offered to let me search his car, and I did. He then shook my hand, thanked me, and drove away.

I thought: man, there was your opportunity for a little payback. John Van Maanen might have been a bit disappointed with me; I had not kept "The Asshole" in check.

At some points, though, you just have to let a thing go, and I guess that I had. I'm a little embarrassed that it even occurred to me to turn the screws on old Jerry, just because of how he had been.

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At Wednesday, August 17, 2016 3:12:00 AM, Blogger Carteach said...

An opportunity, perhaps a fortunate chance to test one's own integrity and humanity.

I think we are presented with such opportunities daily, and how we decide them defines who we are to a degree. Sometimes it's not about them. It's about how we choose for ourselves, and what it means to us internally.

Besides.... Karma is designed for folks like Jerry.

At Thursday, August 18, 2016 3:29:00 PM, Blogger Old NFO said...

Karma is right... And stepping on those 'other' options running through your head.

At Thursday, August 18, 2016 3:30:00 PM, Blogger Old NFO said...

Karma is right... Luckily YOU stopped him not somebody else... And your decision was the right one...

At Friday, August 19, 2016 5:19:00 AM, Anonymous Alien said...

Personal integrity tests aside, it's possible you did Jerry no favor. Out in The Real World, for however long he's able to maintain that, he'll find a different environment than in the shelter of a jail. His cell bars did more than confine him - they also prevented acccess to him by others. Some personality traits simply invite payback.

Karma, indeed.

At Saturday, August 20, 2016 3:59:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

In the long run, The Opportunity wasn't for "Jerry" (not his real name); it was for me. And it wasn't, as it first seemed, an opportunity for me to serve up some justice to him. It was an opportunity for me, to rise above it.

At Monday, August 29, 2016 10:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems like in your inner struggle to rise above, you forgot to do your job. You let him drive away knowing his DL was suspended? Huh. Further, this is a career criminal who you say has checked all the bad boxes but the biggest one (so far). LE discretion is for giving good guys a break for minor infractions; not using them to return this psychopath to his 8X10 comfort zone almost certainly put good citizens at risk. JTC

At Tuesday, August 30, 2016 8:52:00 AM, Blogger Matt G said...

I am being evaluated and found lacking by... who?
At first, I thought that perhaps I had written it incorrectly, and that I wasn't getting my point across. But no, that's not the case. Here, we have a person who doesn't know my job, and doesn't have my experiences, telling me how I should have done my job. I wonder how he would respond if I were to tell him how to do his own? Paging Doctors Dunning and Kruger...

I don't know why I'm bothering to explain, but I will:
1. The day that they take away my officer's discretion to be able to give a warning for an offense is the day that I resign.
2. Jerry had a job. In the 12 years that I'd known him, he had never had a real job. Here, he had some tools, some work boots, skinned knuckles, and didn't appear to be on the meth. Impounding his car would cost him his job. Issuing a citation or arresting him for DWLS would put more surcharges on the guy's license, so that he could never, ever, ever dig his way out and get his license again. Without a license in this area, you can't work. How does this help society?
3. Jerry's assaults were 20 years ago or more. His burglaries and thefts were all associated with his meth use. He clearly wasn't using anymore, because this guy knows two speeds: Off, and Full Throttle.
4. Like or hate Jerry, he is a member of the community in which I live and work. I will see him again. In fact, I've seen him since, a couple of times. He recognized me. He was friendly. The charges that I could have jammed him up with were traffic misdemeanors. But instead, I got some good will from a large man who has a past career as a criminal.
5. Jerry is in his 40s, now. In Advanced Criminological Theory back in grad school, I learned that we see two calm-down periods for people who go wilding: mid-20s, and early 40s. It's very possible that Jerry is in the second group.

At Wednesday, August 31, 2016 10:16:00 AM, Anonymous Les said...

Plus, under the "new" surcharge system, it seems as if every third working person stopped has a license suspended due to failure to pay surcharges. Folks on the plantation can get out of them, if I understand correctly. So you could fill the jails up to overflowing with people trying to make it, who have gotten crosswise with the surcharge system.

At Friday, September 02, 2016 10:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah. Not a 22-time recidivist and psychopath, but just a hapless former doper. Rather a different narrative than the original ain't it? But I guess that would have messed up your story.

I'll skip the whole thing about a cop not being a social worker, job description being protect-and-serve law-abiding citizens not career criminals, and not needing a doctorate in ACT to know that your employers do indeed tell you how to do your job.

I'll just ask this: if you can't have a job without a license how does he have a job since he already is suspended (one would think with good cause, like you know, protecting the aforementioned law-abiding citizens)? Unless you just protected his criminal activity by allowing more of it, letting him drive away just to get some warm and fuzzies and maybe a little quid pro quo from Jerry like maybe he won't be mean to you anymore?

Listen, I didn't intend this to be such a harsh critique, but the whole thing just seems like such a disconnect for someone I believe to be intelligent, well-intentioned, and dedicated to the job.

At Saturday, September 03, 2016 1:01:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

Enjoy your last published post, here, JTC. Your writing style is quite distinctive, and I'll be sending each one in the future to my Spam bin.

This isn't about sensitivity to thoughtful criticism, BTW. Quite the opposite, in fact.

At Monday, September 19, 2016 3:00:00 PM, Anonymous harp1034 said...

It seems Mr. Anonymous does not like the way you do your job. He is right in that you have supervisors that tell you how to do your job. But he is not one of them. Who knows maybe someday Jerry will have some infro for you on a major case.
With the big 50 looming ahead he seems to have mellowed somewhat. You did the right thing.

At Saturday, October 01, 2016 8:26:00 AM, Blogger John B said...

That's why I've always admired you Matt.

At Tuesday, October 11, 2016 9:00:00 AM, Blogger Noah said...

When people ask me what I mean by 'peace officer', this is the kind of thing I point them at.


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