A disdain for cops was affirmed when I was 14, riding my bike home from school in New Castle.
I think the feeling started about a year before, when my mom and I first moved there. We noticed the tiny town seemed to have an officer lurking wherever there was a stop sign or change in the speed limit. One of my climbing guidebooks even noted, "The cops there don't mess around." I didn't worry about it since I wasn't driving yet, but that changed abruptly.
I was on my bike, turning up Seventh Street, when a uniformed officer grabbed my handle bars and forced me to stop.
"I could give you a ticket," he said.
"You were speeding on your bike this morning. I could give you a ticket and you would lose points on your driver's license that you don't even have."
He didn't sound nice about it, not like he was concerned for my safety. To me, it felt more like a bull whip intended to snap me into submission.
"I have to ride fast to keep ahead of the cars on the downhill because there's no shoulder on the road." That was a fact.
"You were speeding. Next time I'll give you a ticket." He released his grip with a slight shove.
I didn't want to show it, but he got to me. My nerves quivered like they were full of coffee. I felt like I'd been treated like a delinquent before I'd done anything to deserve it.
Several citations have come my way since then, along with some angry interactions.
Now I feel bad for some of those run-ins. Since I started noting the arrest reports at the Eagle County Jail every week for the newspaper a few years ago, my perception of police is shifting back to one of respect.
Cops put up with a lot. Next time you feel like yelling at one that stops you, keep in mind she was probably up all night baby-sitting an angry drunk that kept kicking her in the shins and spitting on her face. These cases occur more frequently than I imagined. Most officers treat a lot of troubled characters with more tolerance and respect than I would.
That said, police are still people and some people are more flawed than others. I was reminded of this the other day when I went through the security checkpoint at the justice center.
The guards at the metal detector know me. I also know the drill - leave the phone in the car, empty the few items I have on the table and then walk through. Sometimes the buzzer goes off anyway, depending on how many metal buttons and zippers are in my clothes. I used to have to take my belt off every time, which feels a little degrading when I'm dressed nice and have to fiddle with my pants in front of everyone.
After the guards knew me and why I was there, they let me go without removing my belt or wanding me when my jacket set the buzzer off. Either way, I was fine with it because they treated me with respect.
There is one guard who isn't nice to anyone, though - that's what his colleague told me more than once.
I started going through the detector with the usual demeanor. I put my wallet, keys, pen and notepad on the desk - not in a plastic bucket on the conveyor belt, because what's the point of sending those through the scanner? - and started to walk through.
"Put them in the bucket!" barked the round, red-faced man. "And what about your belt, take that off."
I took my belt off, getting agitated, and walked through the detector without a beep, but the man wasn't done with me yet.
"Hey! Did I tell you to walk through? Get over here and lift up your jacket. You don't listen, do you?"
I wanted to say some choice words. Instead I lifted my jacket, showing my bare waistline. The other guard lifted her eyebrows apologetically. She's a really nice person. I'm glad I knew her before the angry man started working there, or I might have lumped them together.
"I apologize to so many people because of him," she said. "Some of us are a little badge heavy around here."
Treat cops like good people. Most of them will return the favor.
- "Open Space" appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.