Tuesday, September 29, 2015

COLUMN: Police

I've been too harsh on people this month. I just re-read my columns from the past few weeks, and I'm starting to sound like an angry old man.

There are some serious advantages to having a weekly pulpit like this. In real life, I'm the least confrontational guy you could ever meet. But give me a keyboard and a cup of coffee and suddenly I'm Vitriol-Man, self-appointed crusader of righteousness. Waste my time at a grocery store? You're in a column. Request the wrong song while I'm DJing? You're in a column. Be Justin Bieber? You're DEFINITELY in a column.

Truth is, I've got no right to cast judgement on the rest of the world. As I type this, I'm sprawled out on my couch in a ratty t-shirt eating a Pop-Tart and watching "Big Brother." I'm not exactly winning by the Charlie Sheen standard. I need to lighten up and spend at least ONE column on good people doing good things -- and this one involves perhaps the most maligned of us all in 2015.

I'd imagine it has to be pretty rough right now to be a police officer. Thanks to a few well-documented bad eggs, whenever the word "police" pops up in the news, there's a good chance that's it now followed up with "brutality," "racial profiling," "excessive use of force," and other phrases that usually don't inhabit the routine vocabulary of a fluff humor columnist.

This isn't my usual beat. when it comes to cops, I don't have a lot of first-hand knowledge to fall back on. As a rule, I tend to avoid run-ins with the law. Of course, that was before THIS summer, where I've now had TWO.

You might have caught a column I wrote back in June about getting suckered into a new home security system by a door-to-door salesman. This was actually a good thing, because my home needed security -- mostly to fend off any OTHER door-to-door salesmen that might come knocking. Before I knew it, I had cameras and motion sensors aplenty. If anyone so much as steps on my porch, it now pings my cell phone and I can immediately view and speak to any visitors remotely. This has proven very handy in my new hobby of scaring the bejeezus out of my mail carrier by yelling "THANK YOU" in a deep voice every time she drops off a parcel.

But with the new system comes a complicated series of passcodes and rules that must be followed to avoid setting off the alarm. "Don't worry," the guy said at the time, "You're going to set it off accidentally. Everybody does." Everybody but ME, I thought. You'd have to be a moron to trigger your own alarm.

It took me two days.

June was also the month that I went on my epic New York adventure, and my security system was installed just before departure. The day before I left, I pulled into my garage and realized that I had yet to clean out my car, a mandatory pre-trip task. So I grabbed a trash bag and set about ridding the car of fast-food detritus and other junk.

In doing so, I forgot two important things. (1) My garage door was hooked up to the security system, and (2) the ringer was off on my cell phone. So as I was cleaning out my car, my silent alarm was going off and the police were being alerted that someone was breaking into my garage. The security company was repeatedly trying to call my phone, which was in my pocket and muted.

After I cleaned out my car, I went inside, turned on the TV, and plopped down on the couch just as the police were rolling up out back. Worse yet, I have neighbors across my alley who spend their afternoons endlessly tinkering on their cars. The cops saw these guys and assumed they were breaking into my garage. While I was laughing to a "Parks and Rec" rerun, the cops had my neighbors on the ground at gunpoint. When they eventually knocked on the door, they saw me standing in front of a kitchen full of half-packed suitcases. Just like Lucy, I had some explaining to do.

Thankfully it ended up okay. Once it was established that I was packing for a trip and not a mellow burglar enjoying a sitcom break, the cops were very cool. Even my neighbors laughed off being at the receiving end of Johnny Law, although I'm told I now owe them "a pavement kiss." As it turns out, I guess everyone DOES set off their alarm accidentally.

"Don't worry about it," one of the officers told me. "We'd rather have a million of these calls instead of someone being robbed blind." I, for one, like living in a town where the police really care about the welfare of their citizens. I just didn't know how much until last week.

For the past month, I've had a team of construction experts rebuilding and painting my front and back steps. And by "team of construction experts," I mean my dad, who's been coming up from Galesburg every day in his ongoing effort to take home the Most Awesome Father Ever award for the 44th year running. The other day, Dad was painting my front porch and needed a roller out of the garage. He was surprised to find a police officer waiting for him out back.

"Is there a problem?" my dad asked.

"No," replied the officer. "I was just driving past and saw the garage door open. This isn't the usual car that's parked here, so I just thought I'd run your plates real quick."

And that's how my dad finally got busted after a life on the lam. No, I'm kidding, he's a do-gooder. But if this is police interference, they can interfere anytime they fancy. The Quad Cities is a big place. Never in a million years would I have expected an officer to know my neighborhood well enough to notice an open garage door or a strange car parked out back. That kind of diligence makes me feel safer than any security system ever could.

I'm not here to tell you there's no such thing as a bad cop. In some communities, it's a widespread problem. All I know is that I'm glad to have the ones around that I've met. It's a dangerous job, it's a thankless job, and this angry old man's grateful.

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