It was on a Wednesday this September that I had pulled off the road to catch my bearing when working my first day in our neighboring Delaware County. While checking maps and apps, an officer in a …
It was on a Wednesday this September that I had pulled off the road to catch my bearing when working my first day in our neighboring Delaware County. While checking maps and apps, an officer in a tactical vest pulled up in a dark sedan alongside my car to see what was up. I explained the census work and gave him the first address on my list. Unsure of the specific road, he was able to direct me to my first turnoff. I thanked him before he pulled away. I collected myself and headed out to find my officer had held back a bit to escort me to my junction! With a sophisticated light display, he unmistakably indicated my turn before he drove off into the horizon. I was delighted by this gallant gesture, but suddenly ashamed of myself. Had I dismissed him prematurely amidst my own anxious mindset? When feeling vulnerable, awkward and foolish, had my own subtle biases acted out in unnecessary defense—aka passive aggression?
Humbled, I felt compelled to thank the officer for being the cop we wish all were: conscientious, considerate, helpful. As a general practice in positive reinforcement, I often contact precincts to compliment officers for being exemplary, but in this case, I neglected to capture his name and his department. As fate would have it, I was pulled over on my way home that night. Not by him, although this female trooper was no less charming. She determined Mr. Mystery Cop wasn’t state police and referred me to the county sheriff. They didn’t know him either but would look further. Dutifully, the sheriff called back with no new leads. Assumedly, the officer in question was likely local. Probably DEC or DEP, whichever department has vests and dark sedans. Maybe Batman. Seriously, I see real superheroes: proven by the individual interactions I had with an exemplary sampling of various officers of the law in Delaware County, in a collective effort to locate an unknown officer with the sole intention to thank him. Each one of them went out of their way to be helpful. Chivalry is alive and well in Delaware County.
On the other hand, there’s this recollection: One Thanksgiving in the late ‘80s, a close relative of mine who was a cop—I’ll call him “Frank”—brought a holiday joint to share. After registering the terrible taste and certain mania, I discovered I had inadvertently smoked crack. (One assumes they can trust family like one assumes they can trust cops.) Frank had been a friendly and affectionate child, who, at 16, stood before a judge on charges of gang violence. As a result, he became an enlisted soldier one week shy of his 17th birthday. By 19, he was a specially trained killer, and by 20, he was an officer for LAPD under Chief Daryl Gates. Gates, father of S.W.A.T. and the face of police militarization, had a designer warrior in Frank: part champion gladiator, part mascot. Like Premium OJ from concentrate, Frank was also an exceedingly charismatic athlete, playing on the LAPD Centurions football team. Eventually, Frank would be named one of the 44 “problem officers” of the Christopher Commission conducted post-Rodney King. His story ends in infamy. Yet despite years of formal complaints of brutality, multiple killings and plenty of poor press, it was involvement in white-collar crime that would finally motivate Frank’s firing. Clearly, there are still problem police cultures that merit scrutiny, oversight and accountability. Change, however late, can begin in a minute.
The very right-wing and white City of Glendale, CA, once headquarters of the American Nazi Party, and the birthplace of Daryl Gates, is the sundown town in LA County where I lived during this tale. It’s no secret that Glendale had continued to legitimize police racial profiling practices, and it’s no joke that you could not be Black there after dark. I discovered during the research for this writing, as of last month, Glendale became a pioneer in American cities formally resolved to apologize for a history of systemic racism. A proud and model city on the road to social reform and recovery. Bravo Glendale!
Chivalry is more than a romantic medieval notion. Throughout the Middle Ages, chivalry was presented as social policy, defining a code to which knights were expected to uphold: namely courage, honor, courtesy, justice and a readiness to help the weak—a fitting design for police of any era. Chivalric concepts of manners, nobility and compassion were undoubtedly bright spots during the Dark Ages. Pairing police policy with chivalry could bring light to our modern dark age. No sense reinventing the wheel, just make the knights noble again.
We can have Andy Griffith or Attila the Hun. I like “The Untouchables”! How police are defined is a choice we make. However, if we are to function safely as a society, we need to unify codes of conduct everyone can agree to. It’s not rocket science; it’s social science, which works when everyone comes to the “Round Table.” Notably, the intentional shape was chosen by King Arthur to promote equity in his assembly—none above another. Police can and should epitomize dignity and merit respect. Unequivocally. Envisioning this winning brand is far from fantasy. Chivalry simply comes down to purpose, modesty and good manners. In real life, this looks a lot like law enforcement in Delaware County, or the culture of integrity embodied by Police Chief Simmie Williams of Fallsburg NY, leading by example with transparency, communication and community connectedness. Outstanding models of policing right here, right now.
Also, officers should always introduce themselves, in case we need to thank them.