Friday, April 15, 2016


Every month or so for the past half-a-year, a policeman hides behind a bush in my front yard. He wields one of those radar guns that measure a car’s speed and issues tickets to scofflaws. I welcome him. The last decade has seen a rapid increase of traffic on my suburban street with commuters often traveling at twice the posted speed limit. Back in 2008, a little kid from across the way wandered from his yard and into traffic. I dashed out and grabbed him and a pickup truck missed us by inches. The driver never slowed down.

Occasionally at night I hear cars drag racing down the street. It’s a straight shot, an almost ideal quarter-mile track and the boy (and for all I know girl) racers love revving their engines and taking off in a cloud or spinning tires smoke. I’m pleased to say the cop is welcome to my driveway. He has become somewhat of a friend. I’ve brought him coffee on freezing days and a donut once, on the assumption that all cops like donuts. He seemed to.

My history with policemen, though, is not all that positive. Back in an earlier millennium when I covered anti-Vietnam War demonstrations for the Washington Post, a cop almost shot me in the head. Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, was there with me and might have saved my life. He pushed the gun aside, yelled “PRESS! PRESS!” and got us out of there. To this day I remember that policeman’s face. He was bright red and sweating; his eyes were unfocused and he literally foamed at the mouth.

Some years later I got stopped for driving a motorcycle with an expired license in downtown DC. The young cop handcuffed me tightly and pushed me into a cell. I lost circulation in both hands. The demented screams of guy in the same cell forced another policeman to check on us. He loosened the cuffs but I couldn’t move my left hand for a couple of days.

There have been a couple of other incidents in which I was involved that left me worried over policemen’s abilities to handle stress. On Christmas day last year, I went to the movies with a friend and we saw a homeless man sheltering himself from the rain at the entrance of a mall. He was surrounded by six police people wearing armored vests, and one had his gun out. I wondered why this standoff was necessary. When we left the mall, the homeless man and his possessions were gone.

All in all, my appreciation for cops has grown somewhat as I’ve gotten older. I recognize that police work is sometimes dangerous and often thankless, but I also worry about the training—or lack thereof—that police personnel get to handle tricky situations. There have been cops shooting unarmed people close to my home. That’s frightening. The fact that more often than not the victims are minority is even more disturbing.     

But the cop in my driveway? I say go for it, Officer Friendly. Nail the scofflaws and speeders and idiots that pass me on the right doing fifty in a twenty-five mile school zone. Give them big-time tickets, suspend their licenses and confiscate their cars.

There are more ways than one to make my neighborhood safer. 

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