Just off the San Bernardino Freeway, high above the auto dealership it promotes, looms a sign that in big digital letters poses a question for the ages: "Want a Hummer? Come on in!"
Wow! I want to work there.
Now, anyone who wants to deny the double entendre' of that advertising message is either clueless (like, say, the father who bought his seven-year old a Mike's Hard Lemonade at the ball park), or disingenuous (think: "wardrobe malfunction").
Personally, I don't find it offensive. In fact, I think it's harmless. Anyone sophisticated enough to grasp its relative subtlety has probably been exposed to greater vulgarities.
Moreover, when it comes to our profession, I believe that if you can't take an innocuous joke, then you have no business working in a profession where people will threaten to tear off your head and defecate down your throat.
However, my subjective take on the matter doesn't mean much. Nor, apparently, does yours. That is, unless you are that seemingly ubiquitous "third party" who gets your panties in a twist over a joke.
I guess one shouldn't be surprised by the hyper-vigilance with which law enforcement agencies monitor the behavior of their employees. And considering the innately irreverent personality of their many minions, it makes for quite a challenge.
Chronicling deputy and civilian screw-ups as cautionary parables for those whose asses are not already in hot water, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department publishes a Quarterly Discipline Report. Each report includes such inspirational stories as the deputy who abandoned his post to play a potentially dangerous prank on another employee, the five deputies who paid a practical joke on a sixth by sending him a fictitious note from a high-profile inmate soliciting a personal contact, the deputy who received days off for putting the sergeant's personal vehicle into S.V.S. as stolen when it wasn't, and many more examples of LEOs with too much time on their hands.
One would hope such acts of idiocy wouldn't occur with such frequency so as to warrant a quarterly report; yet every 90 days a new report makes the rounds.
But not everyone gets caught and some mysteries remain. Inquiring minds at the LASD still want to know:
- Who put the "Who's Your Daddy?" license plate frames on the patrol cars?
- Who sprayed pepper spray on the toilet seats, smeared it on air vents and steering wheels?
- Who took advantage of a break in the CPR refresher class to have one CPR dummy mount another in a missionary position?
- Who kidnapped the court deputy's teddy bear and held it for ransom (always careful to send an occasional Polaroid of the hostage teddy in some exotic state of attire)?
- Who flagged down a kid on a bike during a 211 in progress and said, "Here's a buck. Go look inside that window and tell me what's going on."
No one laments the passage of good times more than I, particularly when studies have shown that humor in the workplace can boost spirits, morale, and productivity. But nowadays, getting a laugh can also get you time off.
We can characterize this predicament as a case of spoilsports, political correctness run amuck, even the end of civilization as we know it. But the fact remains, we work in an era where there is no such thing as "harmless fun."
In briefings, I would gripe about such inhibiters, routinely violating policies in the very act of bemoaning them. But then, law enforcement has a saying: "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time." And I was willing to run that risk.
But despite all my bitching, not once did I belittle the implications of such policy violations.
So with that in addled mind, might I impart a few suggestions for those who lean toward acts of frivolity?
- While you may not have any reservations about playing a joke and the target may not have any objections to being the butt of it, beware that seemingly ubiquitous third party complainant.
- Recognize that no supervisor is doing you any favors in playing "wink-wink" with you. He or she has to let you know the grounds for discipline and leave no ambiguity about the prospects of your getting slammed for transgressions, perceived or otherwise.
- Check administrative bail schedules. That way if you're tempted to placate your inner child, you'll at least know the cost. Remember to factor in sentence enhancements if you're a repeat offender.
- Know that such acts may find you in civil court, too.
- Recognize when you're being baited. A fetching fellow county employee once pointed significantly at a sausage on my plate and said, "I bet yours is bigger." Aside from being unduly optimistic about my endowment, she was equally wrong in assuming that I'd take the bait. (She apparently succeeded elsewhere, for six months later she filed a sexual harassment complaint against another deputy.)
- Whoever you do decide to have some fun with, make damn sure you're all on the same page. (For example, make sure that you have dirt on each other. This is no guarantee against having someone stab you in the back with retroactive offense, but it's as good as any.) Be particularly cautious when dealing with matters of race, creed, ethnicity, gender, orientation, or favorite TV show.
- If you are male, get in touch with your feminine side and ask yourself: Would the "reasonable woman" find my behavior offensive? On second thought, just assume she will.
Finally, consider the wisdom in just saving the screwing around for when you're off duty, away from work, and you don't have to worry about some disciplinarian having fun at your expense.