As I was approaching the ramp to get onto I-59 in Birmingham Wednesday, I noticed in my rearview mirror that there was a police car behind me. I don’t know about you, but I start worrying a bit while they’re behind me. Is it past time to renew my tag? Do I have a tail light out? What’s the speed limit on this little road?
I was hoping he wasn’t turning onto the interstate, so I was watching his turn signal in my mirror to see if it came on. It never did — but he turned behind me anyway. Part of the way down the ramp, the asphalt widens, but the lane for the interstate hasn’t started, so you’re supposed to stay on the ramp. He didn’t. Part of the way down the ramp, he floored his engine and went around me, going through the striped lines you’re supposed to stay away from.
In the time I could still see him, he impatiently tailgated a car and then passed it way too close to a car in the other lane. He lost me after that, but it doesn’t really matter what he did. He has a gun and a badge, so he can do whatever he wants.
Have you ever noticed how flagrantly many police officers violate the traffic rules we’re supposed to obey? I routinely see them speeding (without emergency lights), tailgating and failing to use turn signals. There’s one set of rules for us, and there’s another set for them. Is there any wonder that more and more people are losing respect for police?
Police almost never get into trouble for what they do driving. Even when they do get stopped for something — even for more serious offenses such as drunk driving — other officers routinely let them go. The euphemism for it is “professional courtesy.” In reality, it’s a “Get out of jail free” card for police who do almost any offense that another officer can justify as minor.
When I noticed the officer Wednesday afternoon driving in a way that would get a citizen ticketed, I mentioned it on Facebook and immediately got a flood of responses from people who see the same thing routinely. My friends seemed irritated at the double standard, but resigned to the reality that we can’t do anything about it. Isn’t this a perfect recipe for loss of respect for police?
I wrote about a New York City officer who was caught on video making serious threats to local men. There were other officers with him, but if this video hadn’t existed, it’s a sure bet that they would have sworn none of this ever happened — because that’s what many police officers do. They lie and break rules for each other. They hold themselves above the law in the interest of what they see as a higher good. They see themselves as something like vigilantes on the street protecting us — and they frequently see the legal rules as getting into their way.
More and more, police are willing to break the rules — sometimes about small things and sometimes about big things. Quickly, the problems are bigger than just flagrant disregard for traffic rules. Soon it’s beating suspects and planting evidence and lying about what happened in order to get a bogus search warrant.
The Cato Institue has just taken over a project to report on this kind of misconduct — to shine a light on something that’s a cancer for a free society. It’s at PoliceMisconduct.net, and it promises to be a good resource for anyone who is naive enough to believe that police in this country aren’t out of control.
It’s still true that police in totalitarian countries are far worse than our police. There’s no question that we’re safer from our police than many people are from theirs. But I’m honestly worried about the direction in which things are going.
I don’t trust police and I frequently have no respect for them today. Respect is something that’s earned, not something that’s given just because you have a uniform and a gun. Many of today’s police seem to believe they’re the masters and we’re the underlings. It’s way past time to force them to remember that they’re our servants, not the other way around.