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No reason to avoid contact with police officers


Some individuals regard police officers with suspicion and downright hostility. I don’t because I have encountered many more good officers than bad over the years.

Actually, I can count the number of “bad” officers on the fingers of one hand. Well, perhaps two hands. That’s still not bad when you consider I have worked with literally hundreds of municipal, county, state and federal officers.

Some of the officers prefer to be called “peace officers.” If you have ever witnessed them in action while answering a domestic disturbance call, it is easy to understand the difference.

My bias shows when suggesting that female and male officers working as a team are better at refereeing domestic fights. Two officers are better than one any day or night when a woman and man are fighting. Those are the dangerous calls many police officers dread.

I ran a newspaper police beat on daily newspapers for more than two decades. It is the best beat in journalism if you don’t mind viewing hundreds of dead bodies and being shot at when you are accompanying police on some dangerous assignments.

Years ago I was surprised when the Chicago Police Department obtained a large federal grant for the stated purpose of what to look for in candidates for police work.

The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration coughed up big bucks for the study in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It was a waste of money because I knew the answer in advance. A good officer has the same qualities you look for in a neighbor: Someone who will respond when you need help.

Chicago’s police department ended up with a bad reputation Aug. 26-29, 1968, because of violence between police and anti-Vietnam war protesters in the streets and parks of Chicago that turned into riots.

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4 in Memphis was one of the acts of violence that plunged 1968 into a year of turmoil – it began with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and included the murder of Robert Kennedy.

Many officers view the press as the enemy. However, if you treat the officers fairly, they respond in kind.

My last ticket for a moving violation was in the spring of 1969. It was for speeding in the Missouri Bootheel. I was speeding and did not give the state trooper any lip.

Several years later because of a problem with an airline schedule, I had to drive a rented car from Detroit, Mich., to Toledo, Ohio. I was lost in Detroit when two city officers pulled me over.

The one approaching from the passenger side held a 12-gauge pump shotgun. The officer walking up to the driver’s side had a flashlight in his left armpit, a ticket book in his left hand and his service revolver unholstered next to his right thigh.

When they discovered I was simply lost, I received directions on which exit to take for Toledo. I was on my way out of Detroit as fast as the speed limit allowed.

Since most encounters with police occur during traffic stops, I offer free advice to drivers: Don’t ask the officer if he or she is trying to meet a monthly quota. That’s a dumb way to start the conversation.

Simply comply with the officer’s requests and you will probably be off with a verbal warning. This is not the time to explain you are related to the mayor.

An officer has a dangerous job. Adding to the aggravation is dumb.

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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at fugatel@sbcglobal.net or at (870) 329-7010.