So if the officer doesn't expect it and the merchant shouldn't expect anything in return, why are gratuities offered and accepted? It could just be that some people in our society are just happy to live in a safe place. They recognize that police officers spend their entire lives placing themselves between danger and the citizens. It could be that the citizens recognize and appreciate this sacrifice and want to, in some small way, show their appreciation to the officer. Maybe the dry cleaner is just thankful that someone is brave enough to drive toward danger when everyone else is running away. Maybe the doughnut man is grateful that the officer did CPR on a family member without hesitation. Maybe the convenience store owner is happy he can safely walk with his family to the park. Maybe the community enjoys freedoms and safety found very few places in this world. Maybe all these people want to do something, anything, to show how grateful they are to the police.
Every minute of every day, we trust police with life and death decisions. Law enforcement officers are specially selected and trained to make lethal decisions under arduous circumstances. Literally, someone's life hangs in the balance of an officer's sound judgment. It is insulting to the intelligence and integrity of the police profession to imply that an officer cannot make a decision as to whether he should accept a cup of coffee for half price.
As with most issues, the extremes are easy to identify. We do not want our police running protection rackets; but we should be able to accept a brownie from an appreciative nun. The strength of any policy is the ability, desire and need to enforce it. In regards to the accepting of gratuities, rather than the zero tolerance policy that is in effect in many places, a reasonable policy of tolerance that recognizes and respects the integrity and good judgment of law enforcement officers is probably the better way.