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September 14, 2012
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Keith Bettinger Musings of a Retired Cop
with Keith Bettinger

An argument in favor of 'professional courtesy'

There are enough criminals out there to catch, arrest, and to whom you can write summonses

Professional courtesy — giving a break to a fellow (or retired) officer — has been discussed in many forums, with both positive and negative opinions.

So far, in my driving career I have not received a summons. It is not because I have never committed a violation, but because officers who stopped me have extended me professional courtesy. The second part of this is that I also have extended professional courtesy to every officer I have stopped during my career. Yes, there were times other officers annoyed me, but I still extended professional courtesy just as I expected to receive from them.

When You're Stopped
Now, I agree there have to be rules when it comes to professional courtesy. If you are off duty and traveling through some other jurisdiction and commit a transgression, always be polite when stopped. I look at it like a baseball game — the other officer has the home field advantage.

Present your license, registration, and insurance card to the officer as he requested. Apologize. Do not refer to the officer, as Champ, Chief, or Sport. He is a professional and is to be treated as such. You wouldn’t tolerate comments like that from people where you work, why should another officer have to accept comments like that from you.

Advise the officer that you too are a police officer or a retired officer. If the officer tells you to wait a few minutes, while people who saw him stop you pass by, be patient and wait, you were the one who called attention to yourself in the first place. When the officer lets you go, be polite, and thank him for the professional courtesy.

When You Do the Stop
If you are the officer making a stop, don’t be sanctimonious with the officer who committed an infraction. Tell him the reason for being stopped, check out his paperwork, review his credentials, advise him to drive carefully, and let it end there.

Your children don’t like lectures from their parents. You don’t like a lecture by your boss. So why does another officer need a lecture from you? He knows he did something wrong. After all, you stopped him for the violation. Very early in my career, a wise officer once told me when stopping civilians for traffic violations they were entitled to either a summons or a lecture, but not both.

Why should we extend professional courtesy? Years ago, I was making an arrest alongside a highway I patrolled. It was a simple and comical arrest — two individuals digging with a shovel and a pitchfork, and attempting to steal a tree. When I stopped my patrol car, I order the two to drop both the shovel and pitchfork, and come off the embankment. Since the individuals did not immediately drop the gardening implements and I did not want to look like a shish kabob, I drew my gun out of its holster and once again ordered them to drop the shovel and pitchfork. To my rear, I heard two cars pull onto the shoulder of the road.

Out of one car, jumped four New York City Police Officers — the other car contained a police officer from a village police department. They stood by while I handcuffed my prisoners. I thanked them and they said they were leaving so they wouldn’t be late for work.

I never saw these officers before or since, but what would have happened if they had received summonses from one of my fellow officers or me? Do you think they would have taken the time to make sure I was okay? I don’t think so.

I always kept in mind when I was a cop, that even though I had a job to do, I wanted people to care enough to pick up a phone and dial 911 if I was getting my butt kicked. These cops stopped because of the fraternity of law enforcement. There are enough criminals out there to catch, arrest, and to whom you can write summonses. You’re allowed to use discretion when dealing with the public. Why in the world would you have to write a summons to another officer?

When It's Not A Traffic Stop
I’m not saying to ignore the laws related to domestic violence, or similar situations where departmental policy and rules and procedures demand arrests be made. But for traffic infractions — we have all committed them whether on purpose or accidentally — you don’t have to pick on a fellow officer.

For the officers who say they never speed, or never commits violations, all I can say is, “Liar, Liar, pants on fire!”

Doctors give discounts to other medical professionals. Lawyers refer work to other attorneys. Contractors hire one another to help on construction jobs when one of them is out of work. Why shouldn’t we take care of our own?

When I retired from the police department, I taught criminal justice classes at a college. The students were all eager to become police officers and often I could hear the conversations about which police departments they wanted to be members.

During the class, I would tell them that joining a police department is a lot like the baseball major league draft. You may want to play for the Yankees, but if the Chicago Cubs are the team that picks you, you are now a Cub. The same goes for police work. We play for the team that picks us and even though we may not be on the exact team we wanted — we made it “to the show.”

There are plenty of people on the outside of police work. Some are envious of the positions we hold, and would love to be on our team, but for some reason, like certain minor league players, just can’t make it to the big leagues. You made it to the big leagues. Now show some team spirit and be a member of the big team in blue.  


About the author

Keith Bettinger is a retired Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Officer. He’s been writing for law enforcement publications for more than 25 years and has received 18 awards for his articles, stories, poems, and books. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Relations with a major in Clinical Counseling. During his career he received the department’s Bravery Medal, Silver Shield Award, Meritorious Police Service Award, Special Service Award, Professionalization Award, Department Recognition Award, five Headquarters commendations and six Precinct commendations. He also was a field training officer and an instructor on Post Shooting Trauma and Critical Incidents.

Keith has written two books, Fighting Crime With “Some” Day and Lenny, and End of Watch. He has also contributed stories to the following anthologies: Cop Tales 2000, Charity, True Blue, To Protect and Serve, and Dad’s Bow Tie. He also shares with Jack Miller, the screenplay Master Cheat. Keith lives in Las Vegas with his wife Lynn.

Contact Keith Bettinger





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