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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Intellectual inconsistency. As recently as a few weeks ago, the popular narrative was of police brutality, cops shooting unarmed citizens, and the racist tendencies of police departments across the country. This week the news is full of those arguing that only the police should have semi-automatic weapons. It stands to reason that if you think the police are a bunch of trigger happy racist jerks, they’re precisely the group of people you don’t want to have armed with “sophisticated weapons of war.” Then again, intellectual inconsistency isn’t so much of a big deal when your argument stems largely from a place of emotion rather than from logic, so there’s that.

2. Any given day. On any given day there’s no real way to tell what might be considered a priority by echelons higher than reality. There’s no reliable to plan for it, no way to prepare in advance for all possible topics of interest, and really no gauge for whether that particular thing will continue to be important the next business day. It makes for some interesting conversations with people going on for minutes sometimes without realizing they’re discussing too different things, but what it doesn’t do is make a good platform for getting anything done.

3. Office space. If you’re going to want to hold meetings about every single thing every single day, it might have been a good idea to plan on having more than two or three conference rooms for the thousand plus people you’ve poured into this fancy new building. At a bare minimum you should at least make sure your meetings end on time so the people showing up for the one scheduled to start immediately after yours doesn’t end up playing Tetris on their phones for thirty minutes while they wait for you to wrap up “just one more thing.”

Peace Officers Memorial Day…

Today is Peace Officers Memorial Day. For most people it’s a day that probably passes un-noted or little remarked. That’s fair. The only interaction most people ever have with a police officer is getting a speeding ticket. When you don’t need a cop or they haven’t caught you doing something stupid, their presence just kind of fades into the background.

My perspective comes from a slightly different place of course. In the formative years of my childhood, my dad wore a badge. Some of my earliest memories are of the smell of gun oil, the zing of a whip antenna bouncing off a low hanging branch, and vacation road trips interrupted by stopping along side the highway to aid someone in distress. Growing up, “police officer” wasn’t a simple job title. They were real people, many friends of the family who are friends still. Maybe that’s why I feel such disquiet when confronted by those with no respect or regard for the work done by those men and women who pin on that badge every day.

Police officers leave their home every day doing the kind of work that most of us wouldn’t tolerate for a single shift. They don’t always do it perfectly, but I’d be hard pressed to show you another group of people who are more intent on doing the right thing day in and day out.

You have every right not to like the work they do. You have every right not to like the way in which they do it. But the fact that last year 146 of them gave their lives in performance of their duty insists that they’re worthy of both my respect and yours.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

The One Network that Rules Them All. When I got back to the office on Monday my computer didn’t work. Well, it worked, but the network didn’t. After 30 hours we stretched a Ethernet cable halfway to Baltimore so I could at least check email, but so far the official response has been “we have a help ticket in.” If you want an employee to be productive it feels like the minimum they should do is make sure you have basic office equipment that works. But alas, that seems to be a bridge too far.

National security. Apparently the cell phone storage area at the office presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States. The solution to this was to move the unlocked cabinet that contains 20-30 personally owned cell phones at any given time out into an open hallway. Perhaps we have served national security, but it feels like all we’ve really done is encourage property theft in the process. Call me crazy, but leaving an $800 phone unsecured in a building where people steal pie from the fridge feels just a little bit stupid. Net result, instead of being able to check my phone periodically during the day when I’m on my way to to meetings or go take a whiz, I’ll now be adopting a smoker’s schedule and schlepping out to my car once an hour. If only there were an easier way to be compliant and not try to pretend your employees live in 1983. Sigh.

Blaming others for bad personal decisions. Two douchebags were cornered in a cheap motel room by the police earlier this week in my adopted home town. Then they decided that being on the run from felony charges in another state wasn’t the only bad decision they wanted to make. One after another they raised their very realistic looking BB guns and very quickly paid the price for that level of stupidity. There are a couple of lessons here: 1) If you’re planning on making a last stand, try to have something with a bit more kick than a kid’s toy and 2) If you’re wanted on a felony warrant and the tactical unit shows up, all of your options from that point forward are bad for you… but some are worse than others. Now to the people who say it should have been ended peacefully, that they should have starved them out, all I can say that the only people to blame for these deaths are the ones that ended up getting killed. They committed a violent crime, they fled the jurisdiction, and when the police caught up with them they threatened the officers. I’m sure they were someone’s son and daughter, after all someone loves even the most useless of human beings, but as for me, well, sometimes I think it’s nice when the gene pool cleans itself a bit.

The talk…

Many years ago on the day I got my driver’s license my father sat me down and offered a few last minute words of instruction. It had nothing at all to do with the rules of the road, but instead the unwritten rules that apply when being pulled over by the police. You see, even though I’m white and he was a cop, those rules, however unwritten, applied to us too. Frankly, anything that might help mitigate the potential for being accidentally shot for being a non-compliant douchebag during a traffic stop is welcome information as far as I’m concerned.

The advice I got wasn’t anything earth shattering. Wait quietly with your hands on the steering wheel while the officer approaches the vehicle. Follow his or her instructions precisely and answer questions respectfully. Don’t make any sudden movements and don’t get out of the vehicle unless told to do so. For the most part, what he was telling his teenager was not to get stupid and cocky with the cop whose main concern is making sure he gets to go home to his own family that night. Put another way, it’s always best to remember that the life you save may be your own and try to behave accordingly.

See, as far as I can tell, having “the talk” with your kids about how to interact effectively with the police – or with anyone else for that matter – doesn’t make you a saint or a martyr. It makes you a normal parent looking out for the best interest of your kids. It’s just the responsible thing to do.

On a swivel…

Back on the 4th I asked someone, if they were intent on spending the holiday among the throng, to do me a personal favor and keep their head on a swivel. They seemed surprised at the request and asked if there was a particular reason they should. As the assassination of five police officers in Dallas has shown, I hope none of my friends are any longer in doubt of why I ask them to be aware of their surroundings as they walk into a crowded environment – like a protest or fireworks display or shopping mall.

Our police officers are incredibly dedicated. They’re over worked, under paid, and utterly under respected by their elected leadership and so often by the very citizens they serve. If they can be drawn into an ambush like this you’d damned well better believe the average civilian can too. So yeah, if you ever wonder why I do my level best to avoid large groups of people and why I encourage those I love to do the same, sadly now you know. None of us can have perfect situational awareness, but we owe it to ourselves when we’re part of the crowd to be as aware as possible – of entrances, exits, avenues of advance and retreat, locations for cover or concealment, and of what’s occupying the high ground. Your life – and the life of those to your left and right – could very well depend on it.

Terrorism doesn’t come in just Muslim or Christian flavors. It also comes in the form of political extremists who blow up federal buildings with truck bombs or who shoot up peaceful protests with rifles. Terrorism has been with us far longer than most want to believe – ask an Englishman about “the troubles” or do a little research into the events that triggered the First World War. We can’t eradicate the impulse in some sick bastards to inflict grave harm on society, but we should damned well prepare ourselves to take action when those inevitable bad days come.

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.