Up the Valley: Cop Talk
September 26, 2013
The local police department finally cracks down on criminals (me). Today’s column in the Star…
Do not read this column on your cellphone while driving. And while we’re at it: Remove the plastic wrapper from the fish sticks before placing them in the oven, don’t place the shower cap over your nose and mouth, and for heaven’s sake refrain from knocking back NyQuil while operating a chain saw.
These are all solid safety tips, but the first one — the bit about driving while cellphoning — also constitutes my well-researched legal advice (no charge). Because I have it on good authority that the local Police Department has undertaken a zero-tolerance crackdown on prohibited activities that are simultaneously vehicular and cellular — and the authority in question is the cop who recently found me foolishly engaging in both.
As I explained to the officer, I am not a serial cellphoner on wheels; phoning while driving is something I rarely do. The echo chamber of my car’s interior represents the ideal sanctuary where I can calmly reflect upon the events of the day without the interruption of ringtones and message alerts. It’s also the place where I sing badly but loudly to Broadway musical soundtracks, CDs by female vocalists who are loud enough to drown out my caterwauling (bless you, Ann Wilson of Heart), and where I mentally choreograph elaborate dance numbers that I would almost certainly perform if only I were younger, thinner and talented — or Miley Cyrus.
When you live in a small town, you get to know the public officials, and as a former Main Street business owner and lawyer, I have had varied interactions with local police. Some individual officers are consistently reasonable and helpful; a few can seem bad-tempered or arrogant. But on balance I will admit that there was a time — now emphatically consigned to the past — when I didn’t think much of their overall performance.
I vividly recall the time when I summoned police to my store to rescue two children who had been abandoned there by irresponsible parents. Giving the local dispatcher my address — spelling my store name three times — I wondered why they couldn’t identify downtown shops, when New York City officers can learn the names, addresses and even the owners of the public businesses on their beats. And I’ll never forget the sight of the responding officer walking up and down the street — on the opposite side — apparently unaware that the odd numbers were on one side and the evens were on another.
I also remember the time — several years ago — when a drunken driver plowed into the front yard of a friend’s house, demolishing several trees, his car floor littered with empty beer cans. When the police arrived, they took a firm position — pro-perpetrator — urging my friend to refrain from pressing charges because the offender was “a nice guy” who would make full restitution (he didn’t).
But my favorite cop moment was when I called to report an open window in a closed real estate office next door to the store, which was entered by multiple officers swarming SWAT-like with guns drawn. I feared that if the fax machine suddenly beeped it would be cut down in a hail of bullets. Oh, and there was that prolonged period when they seemed incapable of solving major crimes, leading a prominent local resident to dub our town “Cold Case USA.”
But that’s all in the past, because the local police now impress me as diligent, respectful and competent. Where they once might have refused to release a serial suspect’s description for fear of “compromising the investigation,” they now release detailed information about both appearance and modus operandi. Last summer, this enabled my sharp-eyed neighbor to help them bust a notorious neighborhood burglary ring, and has led many locals to feel an increased sense of confidence and security.
My conversations with the police chief — a no-nonsense female of considerable experience — have always been positive, and I am grateful that these dedicated public servants put their lives on the line for our citizens and businesses. Which leads me back to the recently stepped-up enforcement of our vehicular safety laws. Of course this is right — distracted driving, whether due to cellphoning or texting, or fumbling in the glove compartment for that Miley Cyrus CD, is ill-advised on all counts.
I do, however, think that cellphone conversations conducted at a standstill, while caught in Caltrans construction, should be an exception to the rule under a new theory of defense to be called: “distracted driving due to having been driven to distraction by daily delays.” But that’s just one citizen’s cry for common sense, and categorically does not represent well-researched legal advice.