Ticketing off-duty officers: P1 Members speak out
After a P1 reader poll, we received many responses from officers to this question: Would you give an off-duty officer a ticket for a traffic violation?
PoliceOne members responded to this question: "Would you give an off duty officer a ticket for a traffic violation?" We also invited you to e-mail us your thoughts. All responses have been approved by each officer who is quoted. Add your own thoughts to the mix in the comments field below.
“It would depend on the severity of the offense, and the all-important attitude displayed on the stop by the violating officer.”
— Investigator Scott Richards, Motor Vehicle Enforcement
“I thought ‘blue was blue’ but it appears from the poll that isn't the case anymore! Glad I'm retired after 31 years in LE. The job isn't the brotherhood it used to be.”
— Ken Frisbie, Retired from Chicopee (Mass.) Police Dept. since Sept. 2003
“I’ve got more important things to do than cite a fellow officer. I haven’t found a need to do so in 37 years on the job.”
— Sgt. Brian Stover
“Sorry, but to the officers that issue citations to other officers, I have to say: If you’re on a traffic stop and you’re getting your butt kicked, you had better pray an off-duty officer is driving by. We need to take care of each other because the general public is most likely not going to.”
— Officer Mike Ely, Aurora (Ill.) Police Dept.
“I can only speak as a retired police field supervisor. Officers are underpaid and risk their lives every day, receiving few benefits. I believe officers should show professional courtesy to officers in most cases. The exceptions would be for DUI or reckless driving.”
— Dennis Obert, Retired Los Angeles (Calif.) Police Dept.
“Law enforcement officers need to stick together, now more than ever! Petty nonsense like writing other cops is ridiculous and it should be taught in all police academies that you don’t write [up] cops!”
— Detective Gary Olivier, Rye (N.Y.) Police Dept.
“It depends on the circumstances. It really bothers me when I stop a vehicle running over the posted speed limit (25-35 mph over), and the first thing I see as I approach the driver’s side window is a badge holder hanging out and an immediate request for professional courtesy. I try to give breaks when I feel comfortable but this situation puts a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t mind being made aware that the person I stopped is an officer, but the more subtle it is and the more humility that is used, the better.”
— W.B. Knott, Dinwiddie County (Va.) Sheriff’s Office
“Working in Southeast Florida, I've encountered vacationing police officers from all over the world. I generally let them go with a warning about the bad areas of town. There were a few cases when circumstances took away my discretionary options.”
— Sgt. Van Hamlin, Ret., Broward (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office
“Whether or not an officer receives a citation depends on the type of violation, the vehicle the officer is driving, and the officer’s comportment. Officer discretion plays a huge role in the outcome of most traffic stops. If the detained officer steps out and is impaired by drugs or alcohol, s/he is subject to arrest. Conversely, if s/he is 2 miles over the speed limit or has a license plate dangling from one bolt, a verbal warning is the likely outcome. A third consideration is if the officer is driving a police-issued vehicle and if s/he is taking off-duty enforcement action at the time of the violation. The behaviors in the situation and not the occupation of the driver are the factors for consideration. The public takes a dim view of government entitlement issues and ‘law enforcement courtesy’ undermines public trust and professionalism. The people must trust and respect law enforcement officers for policing to be effective in any community. Ask yourself, ‘Would I ticket this person if s/he hadn’t flashed a badge? What would be the effect if I treated everyone this way for this offense?’ It will give you the ethical answer that is ultimately defensible, regardless of outcome.”
— Commander Corinne Garrett, Ret., Orange County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office
“If you’re honest with me, and you have a good driving record, you get a warning. If you lie, and your record shows it, time to see the judge again!”
— Sgt. Doug Teichert, Canyon County (Idaho) Sheriff’s Office
“Although I am in my 40s, I am very new to policing; I've only been working on my own for about a month now. That said, I think whether or not I ticket an off-duty officer would depend on their attitude. If they mention it in conversation or in explaining why they have a weapon, that's one thing…but to identify yourself for the sole reason of getting out of the ticket? I would probably write them. Give ME the discretion, don't try to influence me.”
— Officer Richard D. Kepple, Connell (Wash.) Police Dept.
“For me to cite another officer, the violation would have to be pretty severe and be accompanied by a really bad attitude. In 24 years of duty, I have never felt the need to issue a ticket to a guy that may someday be the only one available to come to my aid.”
— Officer J.B. Ellis, Harris County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office
“I spent 30+ years in law enforcement and can say without reservation that police work is an art and not a science, and that the way one handles a call or traffic stop can dramatically change when handling the same call or traffic stop at another time. So with that said, it would be a lie to say that I would ticket everyone, because that doesn’t happen, even when I stop violators that are not police officers. And I can't say that I would let them necessarily slide either, so like the majority who responded to your poll, I'd have to say it would depend on the severity.”
— Lt. John Doan, Ret., Glendora (Calif.) Police Dept.
“I'm a Sgt. with my department with 18 years of service. Normally, I do not give other officers traffic tickets, but I have done so in the past.”
— Sgt. Guy Finney, La Coste (Texas) Police Dept.
“Anyone can screw up, and in talking to the off-duty person, I make a decision whether or not to ticket. A lot depends on his attitude, which in most cases is ‘I made a mistake.’ If he is a total jerk, I write him. In the case of officers who feel it is their duty to write everyone, including other off-duty officers, the word got around, and one officer found himself in the bad position of almost losing his license as he had so many violations. His captain came to our office and requested our officers quit writing him. I treat the public as a case by case offense, and wrote only people who thought they were above the law, had a bad attitude, or were a real threat to the general public. Of course I was not a traffic officer, working mostly criminal units, and felt it was my right to pick and choose who I could write a ticket.”
— Lt. Ron Cole, Ret., Sacramento (Calif.) Sheriff’s Dept.
“I agree, it depends on the severity of the violator, as well as his or her attitude. I know our recruits are being taught that one should never base a decision to cite or arrest on the attitude of a violator. I still believe it's a valuable part of police discretion though. If that is now considered corrupt, so be it. I plead guilty. On the other hand, I have been stopped for traffic offenses and have never displayed my badge, so I don't expect professional courtesy. Nearly always though, my attitude has allowed me to skate with a warning. The other times, I knew I had it coming.”
— Steve Evans, Oregon Dept. of Justice
“I feel there are two things to consider: 1. An off-duty officer will help you if he is driving by and you need help. 2. We should treat our brother/sister officers like we want to be treated. If we would want professional courtesy when we get pulled over then we should pay the same respect back. The bottom line: we should not be giving other cops tickets, period.”
— Officer Anthony Signore, Redding (Conn.) Police Dept.
“It definitely depends on the severity AND the officer’s attitude. If you’re going to be an idiot, then you certainly deserve one. It’s the old adage, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’
Politeness will even work with the public on certain occasions; this also depends on the severity and the situation at hand. Sometimes, due to your specific assignment, you may not be able to be as lenient.”
— Sgt. Elizabeth M. Delewski, Reading (Pa.) Police Dept.
“I have let officers slide on minor traffic offences; however I have also ticketed some. I have also ticketed family members. Over my 27 years of service I have become more stringent on being fair to everyone and I am more likely to ticket an officer now than I was years ago. Just because we have a badge does not give us the right to flagrantly disregard traffic safety laws. We, of all people, should have a higher regard for these laws than the public in order to set a good example to the public. When I drive my patrol car, I do not exceed the posted speed limit by more than one or two miles per hour and I do not allow those who think it is OK to exceed the speed limit by five or 10 miles per hour to pass me. There are others in my agency who believe that it is a cardinal sin to write another cop or his family. [In the cases of] the family members that I have written, I have told them that they should know better because their husband or father is a cop.”
— Sgt. G.D. Fink, Albemarle County (Va.) Police Dept.
“No, but that could change depending on the officers’ attitude.”
— Curtis Fortner, Ret. Dallas (Texas) Police Dept.
“Severity of the offense is a big issue. I try to base my views on how I would like to be treated given a reversal of the circumstances. We all know better and should not put ourselves in the position of having someone decide whether to give or whether not to give a citation. In the event it does happen, attitude will play a big part in my decision. I believe in taking care of officers but show me an attitude and I have to do what I have to do. All I ask, is please don’t EXPECT me to look the other way. Treat me and other officers with respect and chances are I’ll help you out if it isn’t anything major. After all, if we don’t take care of each other, who will?”
— Lt. Dennis King, Gulf Shores (Ala.) Police Dept.