When I was a kid, Marvel comics had a habit of ending their superhero stories with some cliff-hanger and the guarantee that it was “To be Continued Next Issue!” This usually proved to be an unfulfilled covenant as the next month history would repeat itself with Spidey once again at the mercy of an over-achieving arch villain and the same damn promise.
This sadistic practice of stretching suspense from one month to the next was too taxing for my tastes and as Xanax wasn’t available at the time, I put my 12 cents towards DC titles. Yes, the stories were crap, but at least they were self-contained crap.
Four decades on, I’m still impatient and in need of resolution. My favorite “inspirational poster remains that classic of two vultures sitting on a tree branch that reads: Patience, My Ass. I want to kill something!”
But I have learned a thing or two about the virtues of being patient, at least as it relates to the job.
One night my training officer, Lynn, and I pulled over two guys on a motorcycle. My t.o began scratching out a docket on the bike’s owner while I was delegated the responsibility of watching the cooperative biker and his uncooperative passenger.
The biker was sweating bullets and for good reason: He’d been riding on a suspended license and it was his Harley that was about to be impounded. It was also his ass that would be going to traffic court for however many violations Lynn decided to write him up for (and Lynn knew his vehicle codes like Britney Spears knows weird).
Unfortunately, the motorcyclist’s passenger wasn’t doing him any favors. From the moment we’d stopped them, he’d been jaw-jacking about how “chicken shit” we were, first as it connoted anal retentive enforcement, then as it related to a perceived cowardice on our part.
For five minutes he kept up the tirade. Five minutes became 10. Soon the tow truck driver was on scene and getting cussed out, too.
Periodically during the passenger's invective, I would step off to the side—always keeping a vigilant eye on the rider and passenger, of course—and whisper to Lynn, “Let me take him!” Each time the t.o. nodded me off without comment and continued methodically filling out his paperwork. I couldn’t believe it.
Why were we taking this crap? It didn’t make any sense to me. I knew that Lynn wasn’t the kind of guy to put up with any smart-assed crap—he let me know as much every night that I was in the car with him.
Yet here he was, denying me the opportunity to arrest this belligerent loudmouth. Not only that, but Lynn wasn’t saying a damn thing to the man, not even so much as telling him to pipe down. Indeed, Lynn was as close to being serene as I’d ever seen him.
Throughout, the passenger’s tirade became more and more offensive. He accused our mothers of being of the canine species and suggested that we perform improbable anatomical acts upon ourselves and one another. Hearing the commotion, some patrons exited a nearby bar to better take in the proceedings.
The growing numbers of presumed hostiles concerned me at first. But then our hero turned to the onlookers and yelled, “What the f__k are you assholes staring at?”—thereby putting them squarely on our side. Nonetheless, the passenger knew he now had an audience to play to and so became even more emboldened.
That’s when it happened.
“I’ll tell you what!” he said, pointing at the star adorning the left side of my chest. “You take that badge off and I’ll kick your ass right now!”
That’s when I heard Lynn’s voice from behind me.
Straight-arming the guy’s shoulder, I spun him around then handcuffed him without incident. He proved to be all mouth. But it was that mouth that sealed the deal. The moment he threatened to kick my ass, he’d violated the law: Challenging to fight.
Up to then, he hadn’t done a damn thing illegal. Sure, he’d been loud, obnoxious, and a pain in the ass, but he hadn’t committed a crime.
I like to think he learned a lesson that night. I know I did. Among them was not to allow my emotions to dictate my actions when it came to enforcing the law. For until he threatened me, there was nothing in the California penal code for which he could have been legitimately arrested. He wasn’t interfering with our ability to do our job—he was just being an ass. Which I would have been if I’d indulged my first inclination to arrest him.
Lynn taught me quite a bit in my time with him, but this was one of the lessons that really registered with me. It also made me think twice on a variety of other fronts such as when deciding to search something when I really had no legal standing to or committing myself to some other precipitous action I shouldn’t take.
But most of all, it taught me that people can and will talk themselves to jail.
All you have to do is be patient enough to let them do it.