Politics: Public Gets Irked When Cops Abuse Perks

Cheer up, South Florida:  There are only 180 calendar days to go before the end of that annual six-month ritual we’re forced to sweat out…

The Roulette Wheel of Wicked Weather we’re incessantly forced to spin and hope our number doesn’t come up…

The hurricane season.

“If there is anything that a public servant hates to do,” the early 20th Century homespun humorist-journalist Kin Hubbard once remarked, “it’s something for the public.”  What happened two Sundays ago reinforced what I believe is the need to remind our police that they are but public servants and that holding up traffic for an hour to allow a police motorcade to pass is no service to that public.

The occasion was the funeral for an FHP trooper, killed in the line of duty when the patrol car he was sitting in was rammed in the rear by another car on the Florida Turnpike.  Thousands attended his memorial at the Miami Beach Convention Center.  Most of those were fellow cops, not just from this area but from all over the state.

Eastward-bound to Miami Beach at 2 p.m. that sunny and hot Sunday, Julia Tuttle motorists were greeted to the unusual sight of one cop car after another parked in the westbound shoulder lane along the causeway, their drivers standing beside their vehicles in crisp uniforms and in military-style rigidity.

Along virtually the entire causeway.  We’re talking scores and scores of cop cars.

Who’s minding the store, I thought, when I glimpsed this incredible sight.  Might it be a symbolic protest or display of some sort?  Has some city official somewhere threatened to snip their wages and benefits again?

After arriving home, I decided to investigate.  Ambling out for a short walk, I spied a motorcycle cop blocking traffic near Alton and 41st St.  Cars – dozens, scores, hundreds, perhaps, and who knows how many beyond if the eye could see around the bend and on up to the bridge itself – were stopped dead in their lanes.  Families headed to the beach, shoppers headed home from the malls, people trying to get from somewhere to somewhere – and nobody was going anywhere.

I bet it’s that police funeral they’re supposed to be holding, I deduced.  That’s gotta be the cause for this holdup.

After about a half-hour, I saw one driver exit his car and approach the motorcycle cop.  How much longer is this going to be? he asked.

Bike cop:  “Another 30 or 45 minutes.”

As the motorcade finally approached and passed, I noted the police departments they represented:  Clearwater.  Vero Beach.  Collier County.  Plantation.  Boca Raton.  Sure wonder what the folks in Gainesville might think if they were told their police force had been reduced by one that day due to one of their own being absent, all for a purely ceremonial event 300 miles away.

I counted more FHP cars in this entourage than I ever thought patrolled the whole of South Florida.

Why, not even the president of the United States is ever welcomed to town with a police presence of this size.

Gov. Crist, who attended the funeral, will likely never receive so elaborate a send-off when his time comes.  If it’s any consolation, you and I likely won’t either.

The motorcade itself was brought to momentary standstills and slowdowns due to its unwieldy size, as it snaked its way from Miami Beach to an Opa-locka cemetery.

In all, the procession – plus the waiting for the procession to start – interrupted traffic for an hour.  Once the logjam had been lifted, traffic from the bridge was still trying to sort itself out a half-hour later.

It is one thing to pay homage to a fallen officer.  It’s beyond propriety and good sense when that display imperils the public safety and the police responsibility to the community by taking cops off the beat and stalling folks in traffic jams.  Cops are, after all, public servants to that community, not vainglorious servants unto themselves.

Police are not a fiefdom or a private militia.  They are beholden to civilian local government officials – your mayors, your commissioners, your city and county managers – who, regrettably, don’t appear to be exercising their civilian control by reining in the police and their proclivity to glory in themselves at the expense of the public good.

 When the police celebrate themselves at the expense of the public they are sworn to serve, it is an ignoble miscarriage of official duty.  And when they elevate themselves to a stratum above us, at which they deem themselves somehow worthy, by virtue of their profession, of unique perks and privileges denied to others, then that’s just plain disrespectful of those they serve and the concept of civilian-run government.

Is it any wonder why increasing numbers of the public have diminished respect for cops, believe the cops to be largely a force that’s above the law, a force that can get away with anything, a force that seems to observe an alienating line of demarcation between them and their public  –  an “us-versus-them” mentality?

It’s not just here.  Long processions are getting out of hand elsewhere, too.  “Might a fallen police officer be properly honored without a miles-long memorial procession of so many squad cars it ties up major city arterials for hours?” asked The Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune in an editorial last November.  The slain Seattle officer whose funeral it was “deserved the personal tributes, the honor guard, the 21-gun salute, the memorial service [at a city arena].”

However, declared the paper, “it is possible to take good things too far.”

“We respectfully suggest that what has become a tradition of incredibly lengthy street processions for both law-enforcement officers and firefighters has crossed the line.” Amen.

 Thousands of police and firefighters from across Washington, neighboring states, and even Canada converged on Seattle for that weekday funeral.  Workday commuters who normally use the streets affected by the procession were warned to avoid them from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m

Coincidentally, seven Fort Lewis soldiers had been blown up while serving in Afghanistan, and their services had been held in the Seattle-Tacoma area that same week.  The memorial drew members of Congress, generals, and even Vice President Biden.  The contrast between the cop funeral and the solemn – yet far more low-scale – tribute to the soldiers was not lost on the paper:

[S]ervices were held…for seven Stryker brigade members who were killed in Afghanistan two weeks ago by a single bomb….Noticeably missing was anything like the immense procession of vehicles staged in Seattle.  The U.S. Army is not short of vehicles.  By the logic that prevails in some police and firefighter memorials, the deaths of seven Stryker soldiers would have warranted several miles of Humvees and Strykers on Interstate 5 during rush hour.”

Continued the Tribune:  “At some point, more is less.  Few dare say it out loud, but many citizens undoubtedly resent the takeover of their streets on workdays by officers from distant places who had no personal acquaintance with the fallen.

“Past a certain size, the memorial procession starts to seem less about honoring the fallen individual and more about calling attention to the profession in general and the risks it faces.” A testosterone-fueled “show of force” by the police, as it were, to thrust their presence in our faces and as much as declare, you took one of ours, now we’re going to shut down traffic and grab your undivided attention.  Attention MUST be paid!

Closer to home, the funeral two years ago of a federal agent gunned down in Broward provoked these remarks from Sun-Sentinel readers:

  • “Police funeral motorcades are a very bad idea.  They are not necessary, they waste time and they rub people the wrong way.”
  • “Why do they feel it’s perfectly justifiable to tie up major roads with roadblocks for a funeral?  I live on a major street and it’s not uncommon for funeral processions to go down this street….The last time they [had one], they had EVERY intersection blocked and we were basically hostages for an hour because no one was allowed in or out.  It is point blank wrong.”
  • “Let’s not forget the taxpayers paying for elaborate funeral, [and] police personnel from all over the U.S. traveling here for funeral of someone they never heard of before.”
  • “Why not go all out with the same procession for our local military people who gave all?”
  • “I don’t hate nor even ‘dislike’ cops.  But I do realize, in spite of the remarkably exaggerated parades and funeral marches (complete with Scottish bagpipes), that they take themselves a bit too seriously.  I lost friends in the military; they did what they wanted to do, and died doing it.  No parades; no songs; no sappy poems.  Nobody knew their names, and they couldn’t have cared less.”

Cops may be right to believe their profession is entitled to a greater degree of respect because they put their lives on the line for the public safety, but they are not entitled to elaborate state funerals – or the processions that go with them.  They don’t serve us well when they make royal dumb-asses of themselves, inconveniencing us unnecessarily in our already-often-inconvenienced daily lives.  Of course we honor the fallen for having paid the ultimate price in our name.  But there is reasonable…and then there’s unreasonable.

And if it’s respect you’re looking for, officer, don’t be pissing off the good Joe Lunchbuckets and Maria Soccer-moms out there, the citizens simply trying to get to and fro.  They’re the ones you should least offend.  They’ll be your biggest supporters, if you respect them.

For Eva Ravelo, aka Principal Potty-Mouth (“eat sh– and die”), to whom I introduced you last week, her stint as head of Coconut Grove Elementary did a swirling slide down the commode last week as she was temporarily dumped / discharged / flushed by the school district and sidelined to regional HQ duties while an investigation is conducted.

Will she float back to the surface?  Or is her job down the drain?  Stay tuned.

SEEN ON A STORE WINDOW IN SOBE:  “Smart may have the answers.  But stupid has all the interesting questions.”

Next week, I’ll be reporting from the capital of the “Left Coast.”  “Nancy Pelosi Country.”   The City by the Bay that all the reich-wingers love to hate on – San Francisco.

About Charles Branham-Bailey

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