"I got pulled over twice in two weeks for my window tint", a friend recently lamented to me. "Don't cops have anything better to do with their time?"
The question is an old one, so it apparently needs to be addressed yet again.
Disclaimer: While I no longer "work the road", I'm still a cop at heart. I spent 15 years on the road and only recently moved to a new career challenge. So, I'd like to clear the air about why police do what we do "on the road".
First, I fully recognize the window tint issue may be a non-issue in your state. It's legal in some places, illegal in others. So, if you're in a state where it's permitted, just insert whatever "petty" violation you'd prefer.
Do you remember how Timothy McVeigh was captured after he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma? An observant street cop and a "petty" traffic violation. I wish I could detail all the many solid arrests my fellow comrades and I have made after stopping someone for a "petty" reason. By the way, the vehicle code is approximately an inch thick (depending upon which size print one reads). It is filled with all sorts of "petty" laws legislators believed were important for safe transportation.
A lieutenant once told me, "Bad guys get from point A to point B in cars, and it's your job to go find, stop, and arrest 'em. Use the entire vehicle code to do it." In other words, when we're out there looking for criminal offenders, there is no such thing as a "petty" traffic violation. We have rules to follow, and the vehicle code and the penal code are our rule books...as well as our tools.
Second, most cops are not cowboys (or cowgirls). Unbelievably, we're human. We actually want to go home at night without killing anyone, without being hurt or killed ourselves, without crashing our patrol cars, without having the sickening feeling that someone complained about our language yet again, or that something we did will get us named in a lawsuit. Yet, we gear up every day knowing that good police work may lead us down those roads. Most of us do this job -- not for the money or the banker's hours -- but for much more noble reasons: because we are good people and we are Sheepdogs at heart.
Third, my friend lamented about being stopped twice in as many weeks. What comes to my mind is, first and foremost, "Then why do you take the FIRST officer's verbal warning for granted and not fix the window tint?" Even after the SECOND verbal warning, my friend STILL did not fix the tint. Instead, she chose to roll down her windows whenever she spotted any other police cars in order to avoid detection. "Good thing it wasn't raining", I told her.
But I digress. I asked my friend, "Do you know whether or not there has been a rash of Breaking & Enterings or any other violent crimes in the area? Is it possible that police agencies have been briefed and are looking for a suspect who happened to be seen by a witness driving a car similar to the one you drive?" It just may be the case the cops are out there doing good police work, and they happened to stumble upon you and your "petty" violation.
See, YOU may know you, but WE don't know you. Just because you may be a law-abiding citizen doesn't mean we know that when we see your car rolling down the road. In fact, we don't even know this when we're driving behind you checking your license plate. Sadly, our system doesn't alert us, "Don't bother with this one. She isn't the one you're looking for." If only! Because we don't know you is precisely WHY we want to talk to you...which brings me to my conclusion.
Finally, we're human enough to talk to you about your day, your concerns, your frustrations. We get it. We have fears, concerns, and frustrations too. Ruining your day doesn't make ours better, believe it or not. Instead, we like to do what we call, "going beyond the traffic stop." If we find reason to talk to you longer, we certainly will do that. But if we find good reason to let you go Scott-free, we certainly will do that too. We truly apologize for any inconvenience or tardiness this traffic stop may have caused you.
There is no prize waiting for us at the end of our work day, week, month, or year -- just complaints asking if we have something better to do with our time. So the next time you get pulled over, please pray for us instead of cursing at us. We'll all be happier with the outcome.