There was nothing unusual about this particular traffic stop on this particular day. A small car travelling 47 mph in a 30 mph posted speed zone, though unlawful, was not all that uncommon. Almost mechanically I turned my marked patrol vehicle around and turned on my overhead emergency lights signaling the driver to stop.
Over time, cops develop a pattern, a routine of sorts when making traffic stops. As the “violator” vehicle slides to the right and comes to a stop I slip in behind. My left hand unbuckles my seatbelt while my right hand opens the laptop computer mounted between the seats. My foot mashes the brake, while my right hand puts the vehicle in “Park”, and then I tap my location and the vehicles license tag number into the computer. I ensure that my dash mounted camera is activated and working, and then I access and read the information returned to me by the DMV on the license tag I had just punched in, all while keeping one eye on the vehicle in front of me looking for any signs of danger. Though I don’t specifically recall it, I’m sure I did all of these things this particular morning.
I exited my vehicle and cautiously walked to the drivers side of the vehicle while scanning the interior for signs of mischief. As I reached the drivers window I began my routine greeting, “I’m Sgt. Bruce with the Aubrey Police Department…”, having scanned the vehicle for signs of danger and locating the drivers hands I then looked into his face as I finished asking for his driver’s license. While I was explaining to him the reason for the traffic stop my mind was processing the pain that I saw on this man’s face. I then said, “Sir, is there any reason you were travelling so fast?”
There were no tears, no drama just a sigh that seemed to issue out of his very soul. He looked at his hands for a moment and then turned to look me in the eye. And then came his answer, “I’m sorry officer, my wife called me from the hospital where our daughter has been for several days. The doctors have advised us to sign the papers to take her off of life support and I’m on my way there now”.
I expressed my condolences, handed his license back through the window and asked him to please drive safely. As I returned to my vehicle, I said a short prayer for this man and his family.
Several weeks later I discussed this incident with a civilian who responded with, “How do you know the guy wasn’t lying to get out of a ticket?”
I thought this over for about half a second and said, “Honestly, I don’t care.”
“Well, couldn’t you have called the hospital and checked out his story?” he asked.
I said, “Yes, but, in my mind, every minute I spent investigating his story was a minute a grieving mother was standing over her dying child, a heartbroken father was trying to get to her bedside so he could say one last goodbye.” And then I said, while pointing to myself, “All I know is, every morning I have to look at this man in the mirror. I don’t want to be ashamed of who I see.”
Every cop I have ever shared this story with has had the same response, a nod of the head, an unspoken approval, an acknowledgement that not only do they agree with the way I spontaneously reacted but that they would have done the same thing.
Cops know it isn’t about keeping score or comparing stats. There is no “Ticket Writers Hall of Fame” and Billy Crystal doesn’t do a song and dance at a “Cops Ticket Writers Awards” show. Police officers do what they do because they care about making this a better world. It really is just that simple.