Monday, May 11, 2009
Checking the cops
I get stopped more often than I’d like by the San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s deputies.
I doubt it’s anything personal, but the deputies around here seem to enjoy making unnecessary pullovers.
Last Thursday night, for example, I rode my bicycle home after playing music with friends at a local barn, about five miles from where I live.
It was a full moon, and the coastal air felt balmy, a perfect evening for leaving the car at home, saving fuel and taking advantage of an opportunity for some welcome exercise. The ride itself takes about 20 minutes and leads me through the middle of town and down a country road.
Having already been pulled over several times on my bicycle at night, I’ve got enough lights on me to give me the visibility of a semi-truck. And maybe that was my mistake.
I was making my final leg, about a half block, before reaching home, when I passed the Highway 1 offramp that leads to the main drag through the middle of Cayucos.
As always, I slowed enough to avoid the cars that usually plow through the stop sign and noticed a vehicle about a hundred yards back. As I passed, I saw that it was a squad car.
Somehow, I just knew that it would turn my way rather than take the business loop, Ocean Avenue, which runs through the middle of town.
And sure enough, I felt the squad car’s lights flash on my back as I turned down my street, and I could hear the rumbling engine’s rpms rising as the deputy stepped on the gas to catch up to me.
I pulled into my driveway, jumped off my bicycle, and the squad car stopped in the street in front of my house, only a few feet from where I’d just disembarked.
Two deputies peered at me through the driver’s open window.
“What’re you doing tonight?” the driver asked.
“I was just playing music with friends at the barn.”
“What kind of music do you play?”
“Oh, we play a little bit of everything,” I said, “a little rock and roll, some country, gospel. Actually, we were working with a young gal who wants to be a vocalist. It was a lot of fun,” I added, trying to sound friendly.
Friends have told me from my previous encounters with the sheriff’s deputies that I needn’t answer unnecessary questions from law enforcement. I had an inkling that I should ask him what his business was but I didn’t want to be confrontational.
As usual, I tried to be friendly, the good cooperative citizen.
Nonetheless, I had the sinking feeling that his questioning wasn’t friendly curiosity. He was probing, if not a little inappropriate.
“Is she three years old?” he asked, apparently stuck on the “young gal” part of my response.
My internal reaction was: “What the fuck kind of question is that?” I’m sure my face registered my irritation and I told him that our vocalist is a young woman.
My scrutinizing filters kicked in, and I took a closer look at the deputy, a bit pudgy in the face, like the Pillsbury Doughboy, wearing glasses, tall and not very fit, a guy who probably was rejected from military service and weaseled his way into a career in law enforcement.
Now I was feeling contempt.
I wasn’t sure where this was going but I knew that another question like that and my next reaction would probably get me pinned against the squad car. But I could tell he was already getting bored with me.
“You’re not on parole or anything are you?” he asked.
“Alright, you have a good evening,” he said and pulled away.
Generally, I don’t have a problem with law enforcement. I especially appreciate those who take seriously their mandate to “serve and protect,” who earnestly desire to keep our neighborhoods safe.
When I was growing up, the cops in my hometown made a point of getting to know the locals. They knew me—and my friends—by name.
Unlike the sheriff’s deputies from this area, the cops where I grew up never gave you the feeling they were looking for trouble, or that they were trying to bait you. Instead, they actually tried to get to know the people who lived in their community.
To be fair, on other occasions when the sheriff’s deputies pulled me over, they had legitimate safety and traffic code concerns. They were courteous and respectful.
But I’ve noticed that over the years, lawmen have a tendency to overstep their authority, to pry where they haven’t any legitimate probable cause.
Additionally, as I’ve learned, citizens yield far too much of their legal rights when being questioned by the law, allowing unnecessary searches of their vehicles, persons and personal affects.
And in this county, Sheriff Patrick Hedges spent an unspecified amount of local tax dollars and resources to circumvent local and state laws protecting medical marijuana dispensaries to destroy the legal business operation of Compassionate Caregiver Charles Lynch, who now faces a minimum mandatory sentence of five years in federal prison.
Hedges, in my opinion, should be removed from office. He clearly overstepped his authority as a lawman and has become a threat to the local community.
Any law enforcement officer who oversteps his authority is a threat to free society. And citizens who cherish their right to privacy, their freedom to ride a bicycle, or run a legal business without harassment from the law, ought to push back, and keep the police in check. §