Why I Thanked Two Police Officers Who Gave Me a Ticket (And You Should Too)
Chicago police officers are often misrepresented. We hear nothing but negative news about power struggles and violence when in reality most of them deal—the best way they can—with constant chaos and hostility in a very hectic city.
Thanks to the movement Black Lives Matter, the hostility towards police officers in the streets of Chicago has increased. We live in a time where media influences people’s views much more than it did in decades past so people tend to draw a conclusion based on what they see on someone else’s newsfeed. But I believe the main reason behind this increased hostility towards law enforcement officials is: lack of perspective.
Most of us have encountered the police during a traffic stop; perhaps we get a citation and on our way we go, but do we ever stop and think about what the officers go through during those brief interactions? Do we ever consider their perspective and their state of mind when they decide to make a traffic stop?
On Thursday, I was driving in the Chicago Southside area. In all fairness, I was driving erratically; Google Maps kept rerouting me, it was almost midnight, and I was lost, so I took a sharp right turn. Suddenly, I found myself being followed by a patrol car. From my perspective, seeing the blue lights go off was bothersome; “I am getting another ticket” was my first thought. In full disclosure, I am a fast driver and I am no angel behind the wheel, so needless to say, this was not my first stop—those of you who have been pulled over can relate. But do you ever stop and think about the officers? Do you know what goes through their minds as they approach a car?
Officers do not know who they will encounter. They do not know whether the driver will be cordial and compliant or resistant and hostile. They often wonder if the person behind the wheel is intoxicated. If he or she is alone or armed. They wonder whether they will be safe once they approach the driver’s door or whether or not they will make it back home to their families at the end of their shift. All of these thoughts, and more, run through a police officer’s mind in the less than 60 seconds that takes him/her to walk from the patrol car to the driver’s window.
On this particular Thursday incident, I was pulled over because I had no visible license plates. I was driving a shiny car, with polarized windows and no visible plates, in a not-so-friendly area. I think anyone would assume that, given the time at night, this was not a family outing nor a regular driving commute. In fact, at first sight, it seemed like a stolen car, possibly an intoxicated driver, and likely to be armed. None of these assumptions were accurate, but the point is: police officers have very little information to go by when they decide to make a traffic stop. Anything can happen. No two traffic stops are ever alike. Things can—and do—go wrong all the time, so we should be more empathetic towards officers in general. After all, they are just doing their job.
I quickly pulled over and lowered my window. Two officers approached me, one each side. They asked about my plates, which I explained were in the glove compartment. Officer Madrid took my documents and went back to the computer while Officer Escamilla talked to me for a while. I told him that I was lost. I did not have a drill and I was in the process of moving which is why my plates were not attached. Not an excuse, but the truth nevertheless.
The interaction lasted a long time. Both officers were extremely professional, incredibly friendly, and very polite. They did a background check to make sure everything matched and came back with a citation. But it did not end there; these officers went above and their duties to help me. They drove next to me to the nearest 711 store to find the right tools to secure my plates. None of this is part of their job description. In fact, after they hand a citation to a driver they quickly move on in case there is call coming in, so I was pleasantly surprised by their willingness to help. Officer Escamilla knew the 711 store attendant, who was able to find a couple of screws in the back to secure my plates. I thanked both officers and shook their hands. It made me feel safe knowing that they were around that night.
As I drove home, I kept thinking about our lack of perspective regarding police officers’ lives. Most of us get so caught up in our busy schedules and often hectic routines, that we tend to forget about the men and women behind the badge. Beyond the daunting idea of authority, police officers are trying to do the best they can to live a productive life. They are someone’s father or mother; they are someone’s sons or daughter, husband or wife. They are someone’s friend and they are definitely someone’s hero. Yet, with all the negative attention brought about by social media, people tend to forget that.
I have had several encounters with law enforcement officials. Some have been pleasant, some have been not, but if they have taught me something, is that police officers deserve our appreciation and not our scrutiny. When they take the oath “to protect and to serve” they do not take it lightly. Officers Madrid and Escamilla—like many others out there—are a great example of that.
Should law enforcement officials be held to higher standards than the rest of us? Absolutely. But there is a difference between high standards and unrealistic expectations. Police officers are people — just like the rest of us — with a different type of responsibility bestowed upon them. And while it is never fun to receive a traffic citation, we must remember something: when most us would duck for cover, police officers are willing to risk their lives.
*Images taken and published with permission from the officers referenced herein.
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