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The Travesty of a Free Cup of Joe

In every officer’s lifetime someone will want to buy him a cup of joe or another gratuity.  Before I go further, a cup of joe is a cup of coffee. (I explain that because I have previously mentioned “pulling someone through a vent window” – and I had to find a picture of a vent window on the internet to show a much younger individual what I was talking about.) That free cup of coffee is one of many potential innocent gifts from some citizen out there that decides to show his good will for the day.  Other examples are:

The local country cooking restaurant that gives officers half price for their meals.  The restaurant is located in the city so the local officers, county, state patrol, and state rangers are there every day.  Command Staff officers also frequent the location for meals and take guests there because the food is good.

You are working on your car and need a part.  You go to an auto parts store.   The clerk gives you the total and you open your wallet he sees your badge. He asks who you work for and you tell him.  He gives you a 10% discount because you are a cop.

That’s a couple examples of small innocent gestures from the public to say, “Thank you,” right?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no; there are some that will want to collect on the freebie someday.  The random citizen you encounter in your day to day duties is about the only one who would probably not expect to see reward for their kindness as they may never see you again.

Here are some pitfalls of accepting that “free cup of joe.”  How about the Stop and Rob?  The coffee turns into a snack or other product.  Over the years it becomes the meeting location for mid-line supervisors and officers.  They meet with the supervisor there as that is his “command post.”  Every officer is familiar with a meeting there as time to get your rear chewed or enjoy a friendly chat.  Soon the establishment is well known as the hang out during their shifts. 

Suddenly it goes south. Special OPS does an underage alcohol buy around town and there is free video for the trial that officers, including a lieutenant, were present when the buys take place.  To make matters worse it is the owner’s third strike.  He begins to put pressure on the entire patrol division to help him out or he will be putting you on the witness stand. 

You only have one recourse: go to the Chief or supervisor and confess your sins.  A cup of coffee was just a gratuity that turned into full scale thieving.  You were taking, wholesale, what eventually ended up as bribes. You have let down your department, the community, your family and yourself.  There is no way to come out of this one unscathed.  In my jurisdiction the District Attorney will charge every one of you.  The only hope you may have will be a possible misdemeanor.  You still have to go through a POST investigation in which you may lose your certification and you are out of a job anyway.  All over a cup of joe.

The country cooking restaurant owner’s daughter is caught up in a highly publicize drug sales ring outside of the county.  Now he is calling for intervention. Guess what he wants?  This one becomes plural.  How are you all going to handle this problem?  Better yet how will the Chief of Police and the Sheriff who also eat there quite regularly and take guest there handle this hot potato?  There is no quick or easy fix on this one.  Can you imagine the Sheriff or Chief having to explain the meals? I have seen it and it is not a pretty sight.  The defense council tore them a new one and it was brought up in the next election.  The Sheriff stayed in but it was close. Still, he continued the practice with other vendors in town. His policy was “whatever they charged was what the officers paid.”

At the auto parts store a witness sees the transaction and calls Internal Affairs about it. Before you arrive at home they want you in the office.  Unknown to the witness, you actually questioned the clerk about the discount and were told it was national policy to give police, fire, and military the discount.  IA calls and confirms and calls the complainant who isn’t happy. There is no easy answer on this.  The particular store I am referring to is located in rural areas and the only one open.  It is their policy and they will not accept change.  The only thing that I can come up with is to send them a check for the remainder and wait to see what will happen.

These last two put the nail in the coffin. There is a four star restaurant in your town.  They give uniformed officers a half-price meal deal.  I had an officer, off duty, put his uniform on and to take his wife there to eat. It is too crazy not to believe.

Last but not least there was an officer who had a large family to feed.  Off duty he puts on is dress uniform and goes to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken and gets enough chicken to feed the family.  He may have gotten by with it except that one of the workers mentioned it to a supervisor who called the officer in.

These stories are true.  You just can’t make some of this stuff up. Now what do we do? The public will continue to buy a cop a cup of joe.  Where does Command Staff draw the line? Coffee, dinner, or other Good Samaritan deeds and how do you handle the public? These are not hard to handle but, you can’t fix stupid.  They are things that can be halted by laying out the policy you want in effect and visiting your stores and restaurants to let them know the policy and your reasons.

A simple cup of joe can become a nightmare that will tear down a department.  Public relations will be destroyed and some heads may roll.  It’s better to avoid all the potential problems by simply paying for the cup of coffee in the first place.

 

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