During my misspent youth I had several instances in which I found myself speaking to a law enforcement official about some behavioral issue or another that was at odds with local mores or customs.
These incidents include being chased by a Venetian police officer with a drawn pistol after a friend and I urinated in the Grand Canal, racing an off-duty officer who was on his motorcycle and a couple of attempts to eat Krystal burgers very late at night that devolved into near riots. The main thing all of these incidents had in common was idiotic behavior on my part and professional restraint by the officers involved and no arrest.
Even the Italian cop who had his pistol out chilled out once he caught us (because my then-girlfriend-now-wife was running too slowly!) and didn’t throw us in some crummy Venetian jail teeming with bubonic rats. And the reason all of these incidents didn’t turn into a trip to the slammer was that I treated the officers with respect and didn’t try to be a smartass. Something my father instilled in me while growing up was that arguing with umpires and police is generally a big waste of time or worse.
That’s obviously not a lesson Tom Herder learned growing up and it’s led to him now having to go to court for disorderly conduct. If you’re not familiar, Herder was arrested Feb. 1 after cursing and yelling at officers after they stopped him on a neighborhood walk. Herder says he was out walking the dogs in his Midtown neighborhood and picking up trash when two officers drove up and asked him what he was up to.
By Herder’s own admission he offered them a sarcastic answer. They ended up putting him up against the car, then cuffing him and putting him in the back of the car.
“We were going back and forth and I may have cursed at him some,” Herder told our reporter. “He said he didn’t like my language and attitude and I said I didn’t like being searched and detained in my own neighborhood.”
They ended up letting Herder go, but then he proceeded down the block and yelled profanities and that’s when MPD officers arrested him and took him “downtown.”
Before you could say Facebook, Herder’s story was sweeping social media and everyone was denouncing the bully cops for arresting a guy who was just walking around picking up dog poop and trash. Even the mayor said Herder was an “upstanding” citizen and asked Police Chief James Barber to look into the matter. The consensus seemed to be the cops had acted improperly in arresting Herder.
But after an internal investigation, Barber came back and said he didn’t think his guys had done anything wrong and that Herder had earned his disorderly conduct charge by screaming profanities down the street loud enough that people could hear them inside their homes. Barber said he had five neighborhood witnesses who felt his officers acted professionally even in the face of being cursed at by Herder.
So why were they cops bothering an older guy walking around the neighborhood? According to the police, there had been several burglaries in the neighborhood and all indications were that the burglar was on foot or bike and older. How’d they come up with that? Well, among other things, the burglar wasn’t taking heavy things, so he was likely walking or riding a bike and older because he wasn’t tearing things up in the process like younger thieves often do. In fact, police thought it likely the burglar was probably white because of his ability to move around the predominantly white neighborhood without arousing suspicion.
According to the cops, they did have a reason to ask Herder what he was up to. Whether they had the right to detain or arrest him will be a matter the courts will sort out, but personally it seems to me he brought a lot of this down on himself by being a difficult and cursing at the police.
Herder is perfectly correct in saying it’s not illegal to curse at police officers — but I wonder if he’d recommend it as a good way of communicating with them now? I’m not saying we all should have to walk around our neighborhoods with our “papers” in order and IDs in hand, but it ought to occur to all of us that if a police officer stops to ask you a question there might be a reason behind that you’re not privy to.
If Herder had simply answered pleasantly and respectfully I would be amazed if he wound up in cuffs. He’s an ex-Marine and I doubt he would have popped off to or cursed at an officer, even if that officer asked what he deemed to be a dumb question.
I’m not trying to land too hard on Herder, but it does bother me to see how many people in social media immediately had horrible things to say about police in general the second Herder’s side of things were posted. Even after an officer shot a suspected shoplifter following a chase through town last week, people piled on the cop for supposedly misusing his power, endangering people and even being a lousy shot.
Maybe too many people think they know what it’s like to be a police officer because they’ve watched reruns of “C.H.I.P.S.,” but not many of us could handle the job. Yes, there are some lousy cops out there, just like there are lousy doctors, lawyers, journalists and adult entertainers. I can’t think of anyone who performs their job better when someone is cursing at them.
We’re supposed to be a nation of laws, but the truth is we all break the speed limit most every time we drive, the president routinely goes around Congress to change laws and elected officials in Alabama break the law arbitrarily and without fear of redress all the time. There’s the law and there’s reality. Reality says if you pop off at the police and curse at them, bad things are likely to happen. Try cursing a New Orleans cop and you’ll get to see the inside of Charity Hospital. Not saying it’s right, but I guarantee it’ll happen.
So maybe a little more respect for the people patrolling our neighborhoods would be a good thing. Perhaps it makes their jobs a little easier and helps them catch bad guys instead of hauling people to jail for cursing too loud or peeing in canals.