What I learned this week…

I was pulled over this morning. The thing is, as soon as I saw the blues and reds coming up in the rear view, I basically knew what it was about. I’ve never entirely cured myself of the lead foot that’s afflicted me since dad first put me behind the wheel of a mid-1980s Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera when I was about twelve. I had a lot of horsepower and a wide open road and, well, one thing led to another.

My point is, I didn’t get pulled over because this particular trooper felt like being a jerk this morning. The guy was doing his job and just happened to be sitting somewhere where he got a good look at me being stupid.

Once we pulled off to the side of the road, I waited patiently, kept my hands visible on the steering wheel, didn’t fidget or reach around for things, and waited for him to come up alongside. I produced my registration, insurance, and driver’s license – while narrating what I was doing and where I was reaching; left rear pocket for wallet, glovebox for everything else.

Directly behind my driver’s license in my wallet is the license that the state of Maryland requires me to hold to purchase handguns. He obviously saw it. The trooper asked if I had any guns in the vehicle. No, sir. Hands back to a very visible place on the wheel. OK.

I sat quietly for about five minutes, waiting for someone, somewhere to report back that I have no current points, no history of violations, and I’m not sitting on a stack of warrants.

Once we confirmed all that, I was handed back my documentation, issued a warning, and told to be safely on my way.

Every word that passed between me and this particular trooper was civil and professional. I didn’t feel any compulsion to give the guy a hard time or make an already dangerous job more difficult. I didn’t want to make a point or try to capture the whole thing with my phone.

We were sitting there on the side of a two lane country road because I gave him a reason to put me there.

So what did I learn this week? Nothing new, just a good solid reminder that if you act like you’ve got half a brain in your damned head, accept that you too can be in the wrong, and don’t antagonize the officer who’s just trying to get through his day, an engagement with the police doesn’t need to result with rolling around in the ditch getting your dumb ass shot.

Body cameras…

I’m not sold on the idea that every cop in America needs to wear a body camera for the duration of his or her shift. I don’t think they should be a special exemption just for the sake of being police, but the whole concept of the body cam is one I find intensely problematic. If the police are the vanguard of this “always filmed” society, how long does it take until they’re standard issue in other sectors. Slap a cam on retail employees to make sure they’re being polite to customers. Check the vid feed from guy running the register to make sure he’s not handing out a free apple pie with that #3. Securing information is a breeze when everyone with access to it is required to wear a cam so the security guys can overwatch everything set in front of them.

There are plenty of supposed benefits to slapping a camera on everyone. For me, so far, the case hasn’t been sufficiently made. It feels wrong. It feels vaguely un-American. I’m just not sure that I want a camera hanging around my neck to film my next walk to the coffee stand, or to the restroom, poking through unread emails, or taking a loop around the courtyard while I’m trying to chew over a particularly troublesome issue.

Being filmed during the day from start to end feels incredibly intrusive – and while it would undoubtedly change some behaviors, I’m not at all sure it would make me a better employee. It would make me a more cautious and fearful employee, but that’s a long way from making me better. Maybe in this one thing my thinking is a relic of the last century, but the current obsession with getting it all down on film screams a vote of no confidence in your people to do the right thing more often than not. If your people are scumbags, the camera won’t fix that. If they’re not scumbags, no camera is necessary. I know which way I’d address the issue, but getting rid of the asshats up front is a lot harder than just buying some fancy new gear and calling the problem fixed.

If history is any guide, of course, we’ll continue to chase the easy solutions until all we’re left with are the hard ones. Some things never change.