There are three schools of thought when it comes to professional courtesy. They are:
1.) Off-duty officers should receive professional courtesy from on-duty officers when contacted during a traffic stop
2.) When off-duty officers are stopped for violations, they should be cited by on-duty officers to maintain ethical purity
3.) On-duty officers should be allowed to use discretion — which is totally eliminated by both point one and two by the way — when stopping an off-duty officer
The fact is many in law enforcement believe that professional courtesy is something a police officer off duty should receive from a fellow officer working the road.
Not From, But To
Here is still another point of view taught in the State of Wisconsin. Professional courtesy is not something you get from an on-duty officer. Professional courtesy is something you give to an on duty officer.
How do you show this professional courtesy when off duty? It is simple.
1.) Set your cruise control to the speed limit.
2.) Stop completely for stop signs.
3.) Do not deliberately speed through a radar zone to get a rise out of a fellow officer.
4.) Obtain a designated driver when you socially drink off duty.
5.) Do not commit crimes.
6.) Do not possess an attitude that you are above the law. This attitude will lead you to trouble.
If You Are Stopped Off Duty, Try This
If a fellow officer stops you because you have made a mistake, instead of flashing your badge with a sense of entitlement, try this. Present your driver’s license and badge to inform the officer that you are an armed off-duty officer.
Add, “I am sorry for putting you in this awkward position. Do what you deem necessary, Officer. This was my mistake.”
Guess what? In most cases the officer will run their checks and send you on your way with a warning. If you do receive a citation, accept it courteously and then take it to court or pay it, but do not malign a fellow officer doing their job either at the scene or later. If you do that, you are no different than the citizens who malign you for doing yours.
Professional courtesy is something to be given by the off-duty officer to an on-duty officer, not the other way around.
An On-Duty Officer’s Job on the Line
A working cop may use discretion on minor violations without fear of repercussions. This consideration is extended to citizens and certainly can also be extended to off-duty cops.
When an intoxicated officer has piled into a family of four, responding officers are handcuffed. They must take action.
It is also an untenable situation for an on-duty officer, when called to a scene where a fellow officer has committed a crime. It is even legally prohibited to use discretion in domestic violence cases in states, requiring mandatory arrests, when probable cause exists.
In these cases, if the on-duty officer ignores the actions of the off-duty officer, or improperly uses discretion, the cop on duty’s career will be seriously jeopardized.
Something Else To Consider
On two separate occasions in my career, I have arrested suspects who displayed badges and said, “I’m a cop.”
One suspect was a barber, the other a fireman, and both were extremely intoxicated drivers. They flashed their fake badges, hoping to fraudulently cash in on “professionally courtesy.”
I was able to ascertain they were not officers and then arrested them for not only operating while intoxicated, but also impersonating a police officer. These two claimed their ploy had worked a number of times prior to their arrest.
Has this ever happened to you?
A Rogues’ Gallery
It is a historical fact that there are some in our number who do not deserve to wear the uniform. Often these are officers, who demand the loudest to receive professional courtesy from officers on duty rather than concentrate on showing professional courtesy to officers on duty.
Here are some examples.
• Sgt. Drew Peterson was recently convicted of killing his wife after a lengthy investigation
• Officer Tyler Peterson killed six and wounded one then attempted to kill a fellow officer
• Bobbie Lee Cutts Jr. killed the mother of his unborn daughter and wrapped her body in carpet for disposal — their two-year-old son was a witness
• Officer Antoinette Frank killed her partner and two others and staged a robbery to cover up the homicide
• Officer Len Davis arranged for a hit on a witness who filed a complaint against him
The Golden Rule for Off-Duty Officers
Simply put, professional courtesy is something off-duty officers of all ranks and jurisdictions should show to officers who are on duty. Remember the badge that’s on the uniform trumps the badge that’s in the wallet. Treat that officer in uniform wearing that badge with respect.
Finally, do unto other officers in uniform as you would have others do onto you. That is the true meaning professional courtesy.