Race, Policy, and PG County: Black Cop, White Cop, Same Story

Sometimes the best thing a columnist can do is to shut up and let people speak for themselves. I get a lot of unhappy mail from cops in PG. The following, a few months old now, is an example. I’ve removed potentially identifying details and nothing else.

“Hello Fred,

“Let me start out by saying it’s nice to have someone who is interested on an officer’s point of view on race issues. I have always felt underrepresented, in law enforcement issues, as far as the media is concerned.

“For the past [several] years I have served as a patrol officer for the Prince George’s County Police. Although I’m not exactly sure why it matters, I’m an African American officer. I am not a life long resident of Prince George’s County. I grew up in the South, [a state]. You would think, coming from the South, I would be used to dealing with race issues. Not true. I am fortunate to have had parents that instilled in me the sense of right and wrong rather than black and white.

“I am not naive enough to suggest that there aren’t racial problems within my department. The department’s efforts in dealing with race relations among citizens and officers are a farce. I’ve heard more from commanders about what type of footwear is authorized than dealing with different cultures. The racial sensitivity classes that we attended were a waste of time.

“Don’t get the impression that I am a disgruntled employee with an ax to grind. I am actually very proud of what I do and I work with some of the finest officers in the country; but things could be better. I conduct a great deal of traffic enforcement so I have a great deal of contact with the public. I can understand how a white officer feels when he is accused of racial profiling because I too am frequently accused of it. I am also accused of being a sellout, Uncle Tom, and a few other choice phrases that I will spare you the pain of hearing.

“I have been a black man for all of my life, or at least as long as I can remember and yet my “blackness” is challenged. But, I have 20/20 vision and I can clearly see the real issue. It’s not race. The real issue is individuals not wanting to face responsibility for their actions. I have been accused of doing ungodly things by individuals attempting to avoid facing up to their actions. It’s unfortunate that the potency of legitimate injustices are diluted by lies and rhetoric.

“The department’s reaction to the new anti-police climate is to stifle its officers with policies and procedures that don’t do anyone any good. For example their latest policy is to prohibit officers from arresting traffic violators refusing to acknowledge receipt of the citation. The Maryland Transportation Article requires that an individual sign a receipt of a traffic violation as a promise to appear in court, not as an admission of guilt. If an individual doesn’t sign the citation the officer cannot offer evidence that the subject before the court was the subject issued the violation, making even harder to obtain convictions in traffic court. We are the only agency in Maryland, that I know of, to have this policy. Further more the Transportation Article clearly gives an officer the authority to make an arrest when an individual refuses to sign his name.

“I find that commanders and supervisors discourage proactive policing. I know officers who have actually been called into a commander’s office and threatened to be transferred if another citizen called the district station and complained about getting a traffic ticket.

“I remember as rookie officer being told by a senior officer that I would learn a hard lesson about proactive policing. I thought he was crazy. There was once a time when I looked down upon those officers who didn’t routinely make arrests or issue traffic citations. Now I join their ranks. I simply don’t care anymore. [Note the foregoing sentence. It’s what more and more cops are telling me. Fred] I’m not proud of it, but I can live with it. It’s really a shame. It’s hard to believe that I once thought I could make a difference. Because I believe the administration I work for to be petty and vindictive, I urge you to conceal my identity in any public reference to the letter. Thank you.”

Our cops are going on strike. They just aren’t saying so.

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