When a police officer stops you, it’s always advisable to cooperate. That’s been my usual method of dealing with law enforcement.
Only one time did I cop an attitude with an officer. And it didn’t work — I still got a speeding ticket.
A couple of weeks ago, I was stopped by state police Officer Frank Chavez for speeding, as I reported in my column last week. He was professional, just like nearly every officer I have encountered over the years. But sometimes, cops can get out of hand, just like those in any profession.
Recently, noted Harvard professor Henry “Skip” Louis Gates was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct by Cambridge, Mass., Sgt. James Crowley. Gates found that the door to his house was jammed, so he and his driver tried to gain entry. Someone called the police to report what they believed to be a break-in.
When Crowley and two other officers arrived, Gates, who is black, accused the white Crowley of racism and shouted at the officers. Then Gates showed proof that he was in his own house.
Gates’ anger led to his arrest. If he had been friendly, Crowley would have been off on his merry way. But the sergeant didn’t much like someone accusing him of racism. So he wanted to teach Gates a lesson.
A few days later, asked at a press conference about the arrest, President Obama said the Cambridge police acted “stupidly.”
Most political commentators said Obama’s comment was a gaffe.
Really? Let’s see, Gates was in his own home when he raised his voice at an officer. He had every right to be rude on his property.
Indeed, Crowley let his temper get the best of him and wrongly arrested Gates. The police dropped the charges a few days later.
While Crowley made a bad call, Gates could have avoided the unfortunate outcome by simply cooperating with the officers and not hurling insults at Crowley. He probably wouldn’t have found himself in handcuffs.
At the same time, officers can make their own lives easier by not letting their tempers get the best of them.
A few months ago, Las Vegas police Sgt. Martin Salazar took suspect Bernadette Varela to the jail. Detention officers later wrote reports indicating that Salazar threatened Varela with violence.
The state police later determined that Salazar committed no crime.
But it’s fair to say that Salazar lost his cool and probably said some not-so-nice things to Varela. The Police Department’s brass refuses to comment on Salazar’s performance that day, citing the privacy of personnel matters. However, no one is saying that Salazar acted professionally in this instance.
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I suppose officers need the tool of charging people with disorderly conduct — also known as “contempt of cop.” But sometimes they take it too far. If someone is interfering with an investigation, an officer could reasonably charge that person with disorderly conduct. After all, the police need to get their jobs done in the interests of public safety.
Still, I have my First Amendment concerns when it comes to the charge of disorderly conduct. If you’re expressing your opinion, should you be thrown in the slammer for it?
In the 1950s, Rosa Parks, a black woman, was arrested for sitting in the white section at the front of the bus.
The charge? Disorderly conduct.
Officers should think twice before they consider a person’s behavior disorderly.
David Giuliani is managing editor of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 425-6796 or email@example.com.