David Pisarra

I was involved in a literal fender bender last week. At a dead stop on 7th Street at San Vicente, patiently waiting for the left turn arrow to turn green when a young woman making a right hand turn down 7th took the turn a bit wide and, well, we met.

Of course this happened just exactly 7 days after I had my car painted. Yes, I know it’s a Karmic thing. Drove the car for years with a peeling hood, that many a person told me I should have the car painted, but I took a bit of pride in not being so identified with my car. Finally I broke down, and decided that while I was in Denver for a week, I’d let the good people at Maaco repaint it. They did a great job and the car looked awesome.

But an accident happened.

And that’s exactly what it was. An accident. When the other driver got out of her car she checked on me, who was totally fine because I drive a tank for exactly this reason, and she broke into tears. I felt bad for her. She was so scared and frightened. She was home from college in Tennessee and was driving her parent’s car, in an unfamiliar town, and made a mistake. I found myself consoling her as the Community Service Officers showed up to check on us.

As we exchanged the required information the officers were wonderfully efficient and caring, while making sure that the situation gets handled. They were a prime example of community policing and why it’s so important and effective.

The officers approached us with compassion and professionalism. They were there to assist and keep the peace. They were the role models for what people want in their police officers.

Rather than coming at us with their guns drawn and an attitude of “take absolute control and establish dominance” which is what so many police departments are trained in these days, they remembered that we’re all humans here, having good days and bad days. Community Service Officers are not heavily armed and prepared for a major battle at every opportunity. They are trained in how to de-escalate situations, how to be useful and to foster goodwill.

I recognized that the city has changed from the sleepy days of the 70s when police were more Andy Griffith than Alex Murphy (he was the cop who became RoboCop). The city has more gang activity, there are more guns on the streets and they are more powerful today than they were.

Criminals are more lethal, and more likely to escalate a situation themselves today and the police need to be prepared for that.

But people are still people. Statistics show that even criminality is down, and what we’re learning is that there is a ‘peak criminality’ in the age of criminals. Usually bad behavior peaks when people are in their low 20s, so that as we age, we mellow. Shocking I know.

I am a supporter of the police force. I believe we need them to maintain order, to be there for the emergencies that life throws at us, and to enforce laws for the common good. I also believe that the police industry has been militarized beyond necessary. That the training of officers to immediately establish a dominant role actually can cause as many problems as it strives to solve.

When activists say “defund the police” it’s a rallying cry, but to just take away a budget with no plan would be silly. What makes sense is to “reallocate the budget” in such a way that the community is better served, while still maintaining a vibrant and vital police presence.

After my experience with the Santa Monica Police Department this week, it reinforced for me how important it is to have ‘boots on the ground’ policing.

Did we really need to have two officers to handle a fender bender? No. I was not going to get violent and I certainly wasn’t worried about the 21 year old woman in a Prius who hit me. But I bet she was more comfortable having a female officer there to assist her, to listen to her, to comfort her. I bet her parents were more comfortable knowing that the police were involved.

The police play many roles in our society, and one of the important ones that is overlooked a lot, is just being of service in stressful times. They need to be commended for that, and we need to remember it, and frankly, having a few more ‘beat cops’ would be a good thing.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra