Do as I say, not as I do
By John D. Turner
21 May 2012

As I was driving in to work recently, I cautiously approached the four way stop at Rousseau and Military Drive with my usual trepidation. This particular stop is notorious for drivers on Military blowing right through, sometimes without even the “courtesy” of tapping their brake lights on the way. I guess the idea is that no one is ever coming from the other direction anyway, so why bother. I have nearly been t-boned several times at this intersection, and have been rear-ended once when stopping to make a left off Military onto Rousseau.

As I approached the intersection, a vehicle coming down Military from 1604, headed for 151 did the same as I see every day; slowed momentarily, then accelerated through the intersection. The car beside it did the same, as did the one following. The next one also did the same.

That third car through the intersection was a Bexar County Sherriff’s Patrol car. Aha! I thought, expecting to see the lights on the top activate. About time the law was on the scene to nail someone perpetrating this daily violation. But no. The Sherriff’s Patrol car sailed serenely through the intersection, behind the other two, behaving in exactly the same way!

I observed the exact same behavior at the next intersection as well. At the third intersection up, all were forced to stop in a proper fashion, as there was traffic coming the other way making left-hand turns.

Well, perhaps the car was on a call. Who knows what emergency it was responding to that might require the ignoring of traffic laws, and the ignoring of other cars around ignoring the traffic laws as well. As a common citizen, what do I know of the daily rigors of law enforcement and what might be going on inside a squad car?

The car stayed in front of me as I turned onto highway 151, and then off 151 and onto the access road, so I was able to monitor its behavior as I wormed my way across three lanes of traffic to my daily exit onto the Loop 410 access road. Note to City of San Antonio; an interchange would be a nice addition at this intersection.

Apparently though, there was no emergency, as the car slowed and stopped for the red light, behind traffic, at the access road at 151 and 410. And that was the last I saw of that particular minion of the law as I turned right onto the 410 access road.

Now on the access road, I moved to the left, prepatory to hitting the 410 on-ramp up ahead, and checked my six for cars exiting 410 on the off-ramp. There were two cars exiting, far enough behind that I was able to move over another lane. One of those cars was a San Antonio police car. As I was noting this, a car blew by me on the right, doing at least 10 mph over the speed limit. The car executed a sharp lane change, cutting off the car in front of me and accelerated onto 410. Would the San Antonio cop react to this blatant and dangerous moving violation?

Nope! He continued sedately on, totally oblivious to what had just occurred in front of him. Perhaps he had a hot date with a two-for-one special at a local donut shop up ahead.

It’s pretty funny, but on the way home, it is not unusual to see a Bexar County Sherriff’s patrol car in the median on Military Drive, or hiding to the side, watching for someone speeding or, I would assume, rolling through a stop sign at the usual locations. I am pretty sure that if I were to commit either moving violation, they would be on me like a duck on a June bug.

But apparently not so much in the morning when on the way in to work, or where ever they were headed.

Whoever was driving that car, take notice. I am not calling you out. You don’t need to look up my license tag number and mark me for “special attention” because of this article. I don’t know who you are individually, and I really don’t care. In the true manner of the modern tradition of journalistic writing, I do not hold you responsible; in fact, I am not even sure if you really exist. P> The way reporting is done today no one is at fault for anything. SUVs regularly do all sorts of things on the highway, their poor drivers apparently trapped inside with no recourse. Guns regularly shoot people without regard to circumstance or who might be behind the trigger. I have no idea how the various police departments assign vehicles; does a patrol officer get assigned a car which they then drive on a more-or-less regular basis, or is there a pool of cars, and whatever one you get becomes the luck of the draw. I don’t know.

During WW II, they used to put the name of the pilot on his plane, right under the cockpit. Now days, they put the crew chief, at least on some of them. Police cars? Not so much. I have never seen an officer’s name on a police car of any type anywhere. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen somewhere in the U.S., but I have never seen it. They all seem to have numbers though.

So whoever was trapped within this particular Sherriff’s Patrol car while it was breaking the law along with others on the road at the same time, you are off the hook. I am sure you were not at fault – it was the car that was behaving in a manner contrary to the statutes. And if you happened to get caught at a red-light camera, it would be the car that would be charged, not you. Of course, such a ticket would never see the light of day anyway – for, as everyone knows, the police take care of their own.

My dad worked for the Arizona Department of Public Safety. I know how things work with the police force. Most police officers, whether city, county, or state, are hard working folks trying their best to do a job for which they get little thanks. There are always a few bad apples in any basket, and cops are no different in that regard. It is a tough job. Think about it; who is ever in a good mood when they get pulled over for a moving violation? Cops take a lot of abuse, and they get put in very dangerous situations every day. This tends to build an “us vs. them” mentality pretty quickly, even among the most civic-minded cop, so it is hardly surprising that “professional courtesy” is extended when it comes to things like speeding or the like. Those tickets seldom if ever make it to a judge’s attention.

I can cut them a little slack in that regard. Who knows what happens when a police officer pulls someone over? A ticket is not always the result; on more than one occasion I have been the beneficiary of a benevolent police officer who let me go with just a warning. I have been thankful every time! That POV that I see on the side of the road with the police car behind it, lights flashing, just might belong to a fellow officer who is being issued “professional courtesy” instead of a citation. I have no way of knowing, and even less do I care.

However when I see a marked police car blatantly violating statutes, and ignoring others around who are doing the same, that is a problem for me, particularly when it becomes obvious that the car in question is not “officially” in a hurry (as in on a call), but more like “personally” in a hurry. Being a police officer should not be license to ignore the law, anymore than driving a truck should be.

Ok, one of my personal bugaboos. I have come to the conclusion that here in Texas there is a separate set of traffic laws that you become privy to when you purchase a truck. At least that is my theory, based on empirical personal observation. But I digress.

So what’s the deal here, Sherriff’s Patrol and San Antonio Police Department? When are we supposed to obey the traffic laws, and when is it OK to ignore them? I can understand bending the speed limit laws a bit. I was taught in driver’s ed class, many more years ago than I want to admit, that one should always drive with the flow of traffic because it is safer to do so than to be a 10 mph slower (or faster) object in the traffic flow. So cool. If the traffic on the freeway is doing 70 mph in a 65 mph zone and is flowing smoothly, let it be! I don’t see the same “safety issue” however at four-way stop signs.

In fact, to me it becomes even more important a safety issue at four-way stops, to ensure that people actually stop, or at least come close to being at a complete stop. I don’t define “creeping” through at 10-15 mph (or even faster), “stopping.” The law doesn’t say “look right and left, and if you think you can beat the person coming from the other direction through the intersection, go for it!” Who knows? Someone going through the intersection might be talking on a cell phone (or texting on one), and be ignoring you completely. A stop sign is not a yield sign. (And don’t get me started on the difference between yield and merge, which to most folks around here seem to be synonyms.

When you are in your POV, you have a certain amount of anonymity. You become just another pinhead driver on the road, with me wishing that there were a cop around somewhere to pull you over. When you are in your cop car though, there is no anonymity, and all you do is make me lose respect for the entire police force. I can try and cut you some slack, but when it becomes painfully obvious that in fact you are just being a pinhead yourself and setting a bad example for the other drivers on the road, it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

And you know, if you do that in your police car, my thought is that you probably do it in your POV as well, relying on “professional courtesy” to bail you out if you get caught by some more assiduously hard working police officer doing his or her job to the best of their ability.

As for the SAPD car and the person executing the mad dash for the freeway, who knows? Perhaps he was looking in a different direction and missed it. Maybe he was coming off duty and didn’t want to be bothered – there was no accident after all. Perhaps it would have involved getting into too dangerous a situation for everyone involved (such as other cars on the highway) for the level of violation; I don’t know what the SAPDs ROEs are.

Maybe it wasn’t even a police car – it looked like one, but I didn’t spend a whole lot of time looking as I was too busy driving. It could have been code compliance or highway maintenance or something; they put cop lights on all manner of vehicle these days and you don’t really know what they are until they light them up and you can see the colors.

Bottom line for those in uniform who ply the streets, keeping us safe from ourselves and those around us; we see you. If you wonder why sometimes we are surly when you pull us over, perhaps it is because we know we were in the wrong and are mad at ourselves (or because we got caught).

But perhaps too it is because day after day we see you (the global you, not you personally in particular) ignoring the laws and/or ignoring those breaking the laws around you and are pissed off because for some seemingly arbitrary reason, you decided to pick on us today. Perhaps that is why you get comments like “need to make your quota this month?” or some other like response. Perhaps too that is why there are so many “donut shop” jokes and others like them as well.

As a minion of the law you are and should be held to a higher standard. Please respect the laws you are charged to enforce. We out here in the public would like to believe that you do, and that in your enforcement of those laws we are more than just marks to squeeze a quick buck out of, or just the unlucky “sap de jure,” driving the same way you do, but unlucky enough be in the wrong place at the wrong time when it was your turn to sit and watch us drive instead of driving yourself.