Monday, August 15, 2011

I am Sorry, but You WERE Doing 90 MPH in a 70 MPH Zone....

I work with very professional law enforcement officers everyday. Contrary to popular belief issuing traffic tickets is not how they get their thrills. It is one dimension of their job, but certainly not the only one. Police officers have one objective in mind when initiating a traffic stop for an array of moving violations. They are simply trying to prompt compliance.



An officer has several options. He can issue a citation that will generally lead to a hefty fine. She can give a verbal warning. In some cases, the accused offender is given a written warning that has no impact on a driving record. The goal is compliance. The officer must determine what course of action will most likely lead to said compliance.


Computers of course have changed everyone’s life. As a rule, a police officer can quickly pull up an offender’s driving record on his in car computer. If the person has a lengthy list of speeding tickets, perhaps he has not learned to comply with the law. A warning will not likely make any impact on him. In other cases, the officer just has to use her gut instinct as to what course of action will most likely accomplish the goal of compliance.

I am sure at some point you have encountered an officer that was a real jerk. He was impolite. She chewed on you pretty good as she wrote the citation. As a rule, police officers abide by the “courtesy first” rule when making traffic stops. Law enforcement trainers point out that officer safety is actually less in jeopardy when courtesy is extended.


I think there is a lesson to be learned here. Last week I heard a story about an assistant principal in a high school berating a young man, because he had kept a textbook over the summer that should have been turned in last May. Apparently the principal went on and on and on. He apparently has never been trained in the courtesy first principle. He probably also is unaware that he is placing his personal safety in potential jeopardy by such conduct. Berate a kid that is somewhat unstable and you have a fight on your hands very quickly.


After I heard that story, it occurred to me that individuals in positions of authority do not elicit increased levels of compliance when they berate the offender and thus make that person feel like a fool. It is not helpful to the cause. In this case, the principal contributed absolutely nothing to this young man’s capacity to be a responsible student. If the goal is compliance, the assistant principal failed.

I am sure that most high school coaches would totally disagree with this conclusion. A lot of principals would as well! But I think there is something valid about being courteous and respectful.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am all about having rules and enforcing them too! Some offenders just need a ride to jail. No doubt about it. I am pretty hard core when it comes to being a rule enforcer, but I also believe that it can be done with respect and courtesy.