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Columns : In My Sights

You Bet Your Badge

Once you become a cop, there are higher stakes for what you say and do.

March 01, 2009  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author


One of the strangest things we do in our crime fighting career is play a strange game I like to call, "You Bet Your Badge." Just graduating from the academy and having the thrill of that badge being pinned to your chest instantly enters you in the game where things you do and say can cause that wonderfully important piece of metal to be removed.

The first time I played it intentionally I was a rookie racing to a "complainant fighting with a burglar in his home" call. I was flying and suddenly realized I couldn't make the light before it turned red so I stomped the accelerator, flipped on my lights and siren, and busted the red light at Mach 1. What a rush! This is called the "action phase" of the game.

It also turned out to be a rush for Lt. Ronstadt, who was sitting in the first row of cars at the same intersection about to go on a green light in his unmarked vehicle when a brilliant flash of lights and screaming siren exploded into the intersection on his left and raced past him into the night.

Other officers "Code 4'd" us, calling us off, so I went back to my beat blissfully ignorant I was into a round of YBYB.

Step two of the game is usually done by writing a report or sitting down with someone who initiates the "administrative phase" or the "spin the wheel phase" of YBYB. In this case, I found myself waiting outside the watch commander's office after an odd phone call in which I was asked if I had been driving vehicle 93 the night before. Good, then I better get "my butt" into Ronstadt's office after briefing.

Walking from roll call to the office, one of the old timers grabbed me in the stairwell. "Listen, Smith, whatever you did last night is done and the L.T. is a straight shooter if you are, so don't go in there and spread a bunch of BS; tell him what happened and why, especially why!"

And so it came to pass I was summoned before the L.T. and he asked me why I had tried to kill him and other citizens of the fine City of Tucson. What, perchance, was I thinking?

So I told him what I was thinking, why I was racing to help, why I felt I could safely bust the light since it seemed so close, and that I was sorry for taking years of life from him in that fashion. I confessed, and as I did the red seemed to drain from his face and his breathing became more relaxed and not so much like a great bellows heating the fires of Hell.

So began the final phase of our game, "and the wheel stops on" phase. The lieutenant said in a cool but not mean voice, "This is between us, Smith, it stops here. But this is your one-time freebie; you will never do this again. Do you understand?" As I was the model of understanding, he told me to leave. As I got up he said almost under his breath, "If you hadn't done that last night you would never have been worth a damn as a cop, but don't do it again!" He did this while writing something and only looked up as he said the last four words.

That was 1975 and to this day I remember both lessons from my first round of "You Bet Your Badge." First, every decision you make may affect your career and whole life; that is the nature of our profession. I have seen guys ruin their careers with very poor decisions. It was their choice and they knew they were contestants when they made their decisions. But, it is usually not just the decision in the "action phase" that kills their future. It's trying to change what is already done, by lying or misleading or hiding the truth. That old timer was right on those stairs so long ago, so remember to avoid the "BS."

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' "Street Survival" seminar.

Tags: Police Humor, Code 3 Driving, Officer Conduct


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