Flashing lights in the rear view mirror

One of my childhood ambitions was to be a cop. When I was 11 years old, back before we knew them as State Troopers, an Iowa Highway Patrolman was a neighbor.

Every day I rode my bicycle past his big black Plymouth with a single cherry on top and a long whip antenna mounted on the back. Man, I wanted to be a cop and drive a car like that.

My dream sort of came true in the early ’70s when I joined the volunteer police reserve in our town. This was no Barney Fife squad. We had six months of intensive training including weapons and self-defense training by an FBI agent. I learned a great deal; even had an offer from the chief to consider going full time.

Rookie cops didn’t earn more than a newspaper sports editor at that time so I decided to stay with a job where you don’t get shot at as frequently.

In the ensuing years I have retained an interest in law enforcement and have great respect for law officers the good ones, which most are.

There is only place I don’t want to see a cop and that’s in my rear view mirror following me with his emergency lights flashing.

So it was on a recent Saturday evening that I saw a cop I didn’t want to see.

I was driving through a nearby small town on a two-lane highway. I have long known that the speed limit was actively enforced there. I thought I was being cautious but was visiting with my passenger friend and apparently wasn’t paying attention to my speed.

As I rounded a curve on the edge of town I passed a local policeman sitting in his squad car on the shoulder of the highway. I wasn’t alarmed until I saw him pull onto the road and begin to follow me.

In short order he turned on his emergency lights and I dutifully pulled onto the shoulder.

I lowered my window and by the time the officer got to my car I had collected my driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance.

When the officer leaned down to look through my window, I thought, “Good heavens, they’re using Boy Scouts to catch speeders nowadays.” The officer didn’t look a day over 16 but I’m guessing he was in his early to mid-20s. Come to think of it, that’s how old I was when I was on the police reserve.

The young officer was polished, polite and professional. After a pleasant greeting and a comment on how nice the day had been (yeah, up until now!) he asked me if I knew how fast I had been going around the curve.

“I have no idea,” I admitted.

He advised that I was going 60 in a 45 zone. My heart sunk. That could mean a nasty fine. I hate paying fines.

He asked for my driver’s license and the other papers but before he took the paperwork back to his squad car he asked, “Is there anything I should know before I check your driving record?”

I wanted to say, “Yes, I am very frugal and paying fines makes me ill,” but instead told him that I was a boring guy and that he’d find nothing interesting.

When he returned to my car he handed me the papers. “It’s a nice day and I’m in a good mood,” he began, “so I’m going to give you a verbal warning this time. But you need to observe the speed limits in our town.”

I assured him I would.

While he was checking my record back in his car I considered what an excellent law enforcement officer this young man was. After promising to watch my speed in the future, I said, “I would tell you this whether you gave me a ticket or not. You’re a good cop.”

I told him that he had conducted himself in such a friendly and professional manner I could not have been too upset with him if he had given me a ticket. But, I added, I was happy to just get a warning.

We talked cop shop for a few minutes and then parted company.

Law enforcement officers often get a bad rap. While there are a few badge-happy Bozos out there, the large majority are brave and decent men and women who are trying to do their job to the best of their ability. It’s a job few people can do successfully.

This young officer is.