Years ago, I happened to pull up to my relative’s home to find her detained in her driveway. She’d just returned home from shopping as the deputies arrived at her doorstep to investigate an alarm activation at the house. Frustrated at being asked for her cooperation, she was becoming agitated and more than a little indignant. The deputies were being professional, but firm, trying to calm her even as they exerted undeniable control of the situation.

“But it’s my house!” she snapped.

Yes, it was her home, but how were the cops supposed to know that until she produced some identification?

I never expected to use that anecdote, but in a world where the media reports a racist cop lurking at every doorstep—just ask Professor Henry Gates—I guess it’s time.

I understand full well how unnerving it can be to see cops parking their patrol cars on and around your property and atop your cat—especially if you haven’t called them. The imagination starts working in overdrive and pretty soon you’re convinced that these badged brethren are going to be the bearers of bad tidings or at the very least the neighbors will think you’ve been beating your wife or molesting your dog.

When the concerned resident is told that a fellow concerned citizen requested cops about a situation that objectively warranted investigative attention, the resident may be appreciative.

“I really wish I knew who called it in. I’d like to thank them.”

Or not.

“I really wish I knew who called it in. Friggin’ morons should just mind their own goddamned business.”

One thing you can count on: at some point they may feel a little put-out. And the odds are pretty good they might sublimate a little on you.

What can you do to avoid becoming fodder for political commentary and Monday morning quarterbacking by everyone from the President of the United States to some nimrod patrol columnist?

Well, in borderline scenarios—and we’re not talking racist black professors with axes to grind here (well, we are, but)—some things to consider include:

To the extent that Joe Citizen is not wholly consumed by ill-deserved blind emotional rage, take the time to explain why you’re there. This may entail some remedial civics lessons on the role of the police in society and what happens when people request them.

Make a bid for mutual empathy. Let him know how distraught he must be living in a police state where fascist thugs can parade across anyone’s lawn in full view of God and country. Ask him how he would feel if he were in your jackboots and told to investigate something that objectively screams for investigation but that he is obviously too freaking clueless to comprehend. (You may want to re-phrase this a bit.)

If upon hearing that your actions were actually precipitated by a third party’s request your accuser is not mollified, but then takes the caller to task for being a racist, then ask him how he’d feel if an actual bad guy was wrestling with his front door and some clueless witness hadn’t called.

Ask him if he thinks that you are either encouraged to roll to houses uninvited or that you are inclined to doing so. If that was the case, Hugh Hefner’s front lawn would be hosting black and white tailgate parties every night.

Ask him what you should do in the future. Perhaps he will prove amenable to having a “DO NOT RESPOND TO” entry placed on his address within your system.

But don’t hold your breath.

Now, here’s the tricky part—one that ideally shouldn’t need to be addressed, but a world populated with Professor Gateses obligates it—there are certain segments of certain segments of certain segments of the population that are a mite bit sensitive on matters of skin color, sexual orientation, party affiliation, you name it. You can count on these drama queens to accuse you of racism, sexism, conservatism, you name it at the drop of a hat.

Should he actually accuse you of being a racist—thereby implicitly confirming his own racist beliefs—ask him why he feels this way.

If your state has a statute on the books that allows you to arrest any moron who follows you out of the house, yelling in your inflamed ear, disturbing the peace, and interfering your ability to do your job, arrest his ass. Make sure that you have an audio recording of the incident. Accurately transcribe what the moron has said and avoid generalizations such as “he was yelling.” Direct quotes such as “I’LL SPEAK WITH YOUR MAMA OUTSIDE!!” work much better.

Do everything you can to prevent charges from being dropped. Otherwise, it rewards bad behavior and wastes your time.

Don’t plan on having the Prez broker a far east (Massachusetts) peace accord. He’s all outta Schlitz (and when you’re outta Schlitz, you’re outta beer. That’s for all you old guys who still remember the real Schlitz.)

Here’s another of those “I wish it wasn’t necessary to say it” recommendations: Don’t use terms that are inherently racist or that can be construed as such when referring to the person who accuses you or another officer of racism. All it does is stigmatize yourself and our profession and lends credence to the jerk’s belief. Just because someone acts like an idiot, does that mean you have to, too? (I mention this because of the Boston cop who is facing a termination hearing for referring to Gates’ behavior as that of a “jungle monkey.” There’s no way that’s not going to be construed as a racial slur.)

Finally, you might want to consider calling Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Explain to them that you’d like them to hold a news conference on your behalf. Tell them that you’ve been treated as a racist simply by virtue of not being a member of the race of the accusing party. Remind them that even the ACLU makes an occasional defense of the Nazi's right to free speech out of ideological principle, and might they be in the spirit of true equality do likewise on your behalf.

Just don’t hold your breath waiting for them to return your call.


Dean Scoville
Dean Scoville

Dean Scoville

Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

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Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

View Bio