It was Saturday night and the young ones were ruling Downtown, as were the old ones, and a large body of tourists. I made arrangements to pick up a friend and we were heading up to Topanga for a concert. We agreed that I would get him at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Second Street. So I did what any normal person would do. I stopped on Second Street in front of OptomEyes and waited in my car for the arrival of my friend.
Of course, I’m using my iPhone and looking at the web as I wait.
That’s when the gruffest, rudest traffic cop walks up to my open window and bellows at me, “Parking in a bus zone is a $300 fine, and texting is another $440. Move it!”
Aside from the fact that he startled the life out of me, his demeanor and attitude of overpowering intimidation for the mere sake of being intimidating was completely uncalled-for.
It is precisely this type of behavior that causes a lack of respect for the police department. It is almost as bad as when I see a police officer driving along with his cell phone firmly planted on his ear. One of my clients is a police officer and I asked him about this. His response was: “We are exempt from the mandatory headset rules.” True or not, that above-the-law response erodes their authority and with it the respect they should be due.
This is not the first time that I have encountered the rough boot of the police department’s staff. Last year, another friend of mine and I were in the alley behind the food court of the Third Street Promenade. He wanted to show me one of the ibuttons that are used to track the Downtown Ambassadors on their walking routes. We were in the alley for literally no more than two minutes when a couple of the city’s finest rolled up and started asking us questions. “What are you doing? Why are you here?”
They didn’t realize that they were talking to two lawyers, both of whom work for individuals’ rights — me as a father’s rights lawyer, and him as a real estate attorney. I decided to be cool and just sit on the railing and ask a few questions myself. They proceeded to tell us that about 10 minutes ago they received reports of two guys who matched our description causing damage to public property.
That was an absolute lie. It’s not possible, as I had literally walked out of the parking structure we were in front of, made my way to the promenade and my friend took me right back to the light pole with the ibutton. Total time: three minutes.
I know that one gruff, arrogant, condescending, false accusing, police encounter is not the entire force. Two of them, and I’m starting to wonder if there is a pattern here. It could be me. I grant that I need to look at my behavior. But in neither case was I rude, uppity, or disrespectful. I can’t say the same for the officers I encountered.
As a tourist haven, we live and breathe by our reputation. Our hotels are world class, our restaurants are excellent, and our activities are impossible to beat. But a couple of bad experiences with our police force and that reputation can be tarnished. We spend a huge amount of money on developing our reputation as a tourism hot spot. How we are viewed is crucial to our future well-being.
Our police force is the most visible governmental body we have. They need to be worthy of respect across the board and at all times. Respect is earned, not demanded. For the most part our police are wonderful, dedicated, respectful and respected men and women who give their all to serve, which makes those bad experiences that much more noticeable.
Based on my experiences it may be time for an Emily Post refresher course for the officers who are working the promenade and surrounding streets on how to be effective without being rude.
And even if the Supreme Court says it’s OK to lie to get a conviction, our police force should live by a higher code and not do it. It just erodes their respectability.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.