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PROFESSIONAL COURTESY

"Professional courtesy begins with the officer being stopped, 

not with the officer making the stop."

 

Since the days of Wyatt Earp there has been an unwritten but etched-in-stone doctrine which we call professional courtesy

Under this doctrine law enforcement officers are suppose to take care of each other. It’s not just about traffic tickets either. It is much more than that.

Throughout this article, the words “cop” and “officer” are used frequently. They refer to all law enforcement officers including State Troopers, Sheriffs and Corrections officers, Federal officers, retired officers, municipals, etc.

None of us on the job today created professional courtesy. We inherited it from those who came before us, and we’ll hand it down to those who come after us. Law enforcement is a culture and is no different from other cultures. We have certain rules, certain language, certain music, certain days and periods of remembrance and celebration, and, for the most part, we enjoy being around each other. Professional courtesy is just part of our culture.

 

Several years ago during a trip up to Hoboken with some guys from work, we stopped off at the bar district which overlooks Manhattan. I forget the name of it. When we couldn’t get a parking spot we asked some Hoboken cops for guidance. They put us in an unauthorized area behind their police car so we wouldn’t have to walk and so they could watch our car for the night. The guys and girls at Newark Airport Port Authority PD will let you put your car in their lot and shuffle you to and fro when manpower allows. If your wife and kids break down in our town, we’ll get them back to you in one piece even if it means setting up a three-county leap frog with the departments in between.

The bottom line is that we go the extra mile for each other and extend courtesies that we couldn’t normally do for the public. I may have never met you, but you know if you need a favor, just ask. 

I know the same. 

This is not to say that we don’t go above and beyond for the public, because we do. It’s just that most of us understand that as part of an often alienated group, it is important that we stick by each other. 

Taking care of other cops doesn’t stop at a state border either. If you’re not familiar with New York City and you flag down a radio car for directions, tell them who you are and where you’re going. If it’s in their sector and they're not busy, I’ll bet that 9 out of 10 times they’ll throw you in the back seat and shuttle you to the front door.

Professional courtesy, however, is not diplomatic immunity. In the old days there were no limits to what cops were suppose to do for each other. Those guys though didn’t make the salaries we do today. There aren’t many readily available jobs with the money, benefits, and pensions we have, so risking your job to fix a traffic ticket is no longer part of the equation. 

If after returning to your car you find a parking ticket, pay the friggin thing. Don’t risk your job and the job of the officer who gave it to you. 

In New Jersey, or at least in some towns, in order to withdraw a ticket you have to write a letter to the judge requesting permission for the dismissal. You also have to explain why you want to have it dismissed. If you indicate that it was because you wrote the wrong statute, you will be asked to produce the ticket you issued with the correct statute. All tickets are numbered and tracked, and if a summons is not turned in, you’ll receive a letter from the court asking you to document it’s disposition. Behind-the-scenes chicanery takes down peoples careers and lives and, often, when you see some officer’s career self destruct, it is for some stupid, minor violation. It’s just not worth it.

Also, if you’re drunk and end up causing a three-car accident with injuries, you can’t expect to be whisked out the back door of the scene. Doing 75 MPH in a 25 MPH school zone is nothing less than abuse. When a spouse signs a domestic criminal complaint, hands are tied. An arrest has to be made.

There is a very important element of this doctrine too which is too often overlooked.

Professional courtesy begins with the officer being stopped, not with the officer making the stop.  

Most road officers have a story of a fellow officer they stopped who immediately caught an attitude.  There is no reason for this.  

By far, the majority of us subscribe to the "doctrine" of professional courtesy, and most of us would agree that committing crimes or severely abusing your privileges is out of bounds. One could probably speed on the Parkway from Cape May County to Bergen County and not receive a summons. This doesn’t mean we should do it.

It's important to remember too that there are always two sides to every story. 

If your relative or courtesy card gets written, give the issuer the benefit of the doubt before declaring war. Sometimes people don’t produce the card or identify who they are. Other times their conduct was absolutely deserving of the citation, and they're only telling you half of the story. Then, there are those situations that don’t fall into either of these categories. These are the instances where the issuer just doesn’t care. Unfortunately, this crap happens a lot in some southern states.  The really disturbing part is that these same officers wouldn't hesitate to call you at your job asking for a favor. That is complete hypocrisy. Fortunately, this group is by far the minority. 

Oh, one final note. 

There is one last group whom should not go without mention. While they may not fall under the doctrine of professional courtesy, they are somewhat relevant to this topic in general. In fifteen years as a police officer, I have never, and absent extraordinary circumstances, would never give a minor summons to a veteran. These older guys from WWII, Korea, Viet Nam and even the more recent conflicts have been to places geographically and mentally that most of us couldn’t even imagine. In a way, they’re even above professional courtesy. Most of us have never served a day in a military uniform, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try and understand and appreciate this very special people.

And please, "Professional courtesy begins with the officer being stopped, not with the officer making the stop."  

NJLawman.com

 

September 9, 2004

I would like to comment on the professional courtesy topic. Recently I encountered 2 DOC employees on RT. 287. I was enroute to a call, and subsequently got cancelled. So, slowing down I was passed by a vehicle who could clearly see my marked vehicle. I then "paced" that vehicle at 90mph. Mind you the speed limit in that area of 287 was 55mph!

As I stopped the vehicle and approached it I found 2 officers from NJDOC in uniform. I believe my initial response was, "You've got to be kidding me". Of course I didn't write the guy, instead engaged in a brief conversation. However, I got the impression that I was holding them up.

I'm totally about professional courtesy, however it is a two way street. When you pass a marked unit, and have total disregard for it, how can you expect a break? What do you think other motorists were thinking when they observed that? I have never, and will never write another officer. Had I wrote the guy, I would have been an "A-Hole", not him for not having the sense to slow down.

The fact is, if you can't have enough respect for a marked unit, then you don't deserve a break. There have been times when I have stopped family members and have received an attitude from them. Everyone that gets a family card from me is advised that if they act like an a##, they will get no help from me.

          -Anonymous

 

August 4, 2004

As a Military Law Enforcement Officer, we have many civilian Police officers (state, local) and Corrections Officers who use our government road as a short cut when coming to and from work. Not once have I nor my department for that fact ever issued one summons to any one of these officers (nor will I ever). A cop is a cop is a cop.

          -R. Moore
          -NWS Earle Base Police
          -gerrold.moore@navy.mil

 

July 29, 2004

I am formally from NJ and now live and work LE in GA. I have definitely found that professional courtesy is not as widespread down here as I found up home. However, that trend is changing, thankfully.  I agree with the former NYPD officer, if you have TIN then you are good to go.  I also believe that some of the attitude that cops form the north get form cops in the south comes from a cultural dislike for Yankees. But they are working on it.

          -RF46

 

July 29, 2004

I live in Wisconsin which is not the cultural hub of the nation. Never the less, I've stopped a number of out of State cops, and I've never given them a ticket, nor would I give a citation to a cop from Wisconsin. Cops are cops, no matter where they live.

          -KH

 

July 29, 2004

As a former 2nd generation NYPD officer, now a deputy sheriff in a large Southern Sheriff's office, I do and will always extend courtesy to all LEO.  If you got tin, your OK in my book.  Some of my fellow Southern officers may think this is unethical. Its a cultural thing down here that I hope may change, most guys are OK but some still feel they are obligated to write despite LEO status.

          -Deputy Sheriff

 

July 25, 2004

I want to comment on the Professional Courtesy editorial. I agree with everything said. I have been a police officer in N.J. for 26 years. Something some people don't understand is courtesy goes both ways. Must police officers I have stopped have been professional, but you always get one jerk. I always let them go anyway. Even officers from from other states.  Sometimes we are our own worse enemies. Writing a cop from another state, that's B.S. If I were in another state and saw another cop in need of help, I sure as hell would go to his aid.  I just think a cop writing another cop for a BS traffic ticket is wrong. The cop that write the other cop is an a-hole.  Some of the off duty cops I stopped had an attitude. Well you just put your cop ego away, and walk away.  I know I'm always being told I'm "Old School"  Well, yes I am.  I tell the new cops about the veterans, most of all,W.W.2 vets. I agree that a minor violation should be overlooked. Hell, people in that age bracket are the only ones that respect us anymore. A lot of new cops don't buy that. We should try to stick together more.

          -Anonymous

July 25, 2004

Great article! It is so true that the courtesy begins with the officer being stopped. I had the privilege of having a great instructor back in the academy who gave us a little heads up about being stopped and what to do once we do get stopped by just laying your shield in your lap and to not shove it in the face of the officer making the stop and to not get defensive.  Put yourself in the officer's shoes, wouldn't you want it the same way not knowing in advance that you have a cop stopped? I continue to use that method today and it seems to be the way to go when being stopped.

          -Anonymous

 

July 20, 2004

Excellent commentary!  I was stopped outside of Demming, New Mexico by a Deputy 2 years ago.  Yes I was speeding (75 in a 45) and yes, I did not see the posted limit as I came off of the Interstate.  The Deputy approached the vehicle, gun drawn. He asked for my Dl and other paper work which I produced.  He told me how fast I was going and I apologized and that I wouldn't have put him in that position had I known the limit and that I did the same job as him.  He went back to his squad, returned with a summons...I asked him if he could give me a break and he said "Not in New Mexico".  So all of you brothers out there, be careful when traveling through Demming, New Mexico.

          -DW in Tucson

 

July 18, 2004

Good article.  I agree with professional courtesy and practice it.  However, it has gotten very interesting here in the southwest.  I have been written on duty in an unmarked car by our Highway Patrol twice. Even still, I will extend courtesy to these patrolmen and don't hold a grudge.  I am proud of my profession and the courtesy I have been given by nearly all of law enforcement in my travels has been outstanding.  I won't hesitate to give courtesy to any LEO from anywhere in the world.

          -Anonymous

 

July 18, 2004

Great Article.  I have 31 years in Police work in two different states.  I would never think of writing a cop, especially a retired cop.  Think about the day you retire and what you went through for 25+ years.  I have been going to Washington DC to the Police memorial since the early 1980's, years before the memorial was even completed.  I constantly ask cops from down south and out west why they "Write each other".  They all claim that it's not them.  I tell them that if they do, they don't belong in D.C.. mourning brother and sister officers, sharing drinks and stories with each other and then going back home and showing zero courtesy to other cops.  

I even have a recurring day dream.  It goes like this:  While driving in Florida I get pulled over for doing 74 in a 65.  I I.D. myself and the cop says "SORRY, THAT DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING DOWN HERE".  He writes me my first ticket in 31 years and goes on his way.  My wife says to me "ha, ha, don't complain, its the first time".  I drive about 5 miles and suddenly see 3 bikers, pulled over by the same cop, beating the hell out of him.  I cut across 3 lanes, jump out of my car, and, suddenly decide to sit on my hood watching the show.  The bikers strip the cop to his boxer shorts, steal his car, gear and clothes and take off.  I walk up to the cop and he says to me "WHY DIDN'T YOU HELP ME, YOU ARE A COP".  With a smile, I say to him, "GEE, I WASN'T A COP 5 MILES BACK WHEN YOU WROTE ME A SUMMONS".  

While I could never really do the above, you get the point.  Most important, and not mentioned in the original article is the word "DISCRETION".  It is what makes us good cops.  My question to anyone who would write another cop is this: If you pulled over your mother, father, wife, husband, son, daughter, would you write them a summons???  If you said yes, you would never work for me and should take a job in New York City as a meter maid.  If you said no, then you are a hypocrite.
If we don't stick together then we have lost everything that those who have made the ultimate sacrifice before us strived for.  STAY SAFE

          -A Chief

 

July 6, 2004

You are absolutely right, professional courtesy goes BOTH ways.  Also happy to hear that military veterans should be given the same courtesy as police officers. 7 years military, 35 years police. Thanks keep up the good work.

          -Anonymous

 

July 5, 2004

Great editorial.  Hit the nail right on the head.  I do believe that courtesy has its limits as one person already put it.  I've had people tell me, "Do you know so-and-so, I work for his cousin." or "I'm so-and-so's neighbor."  The best is "I know so-and-so" Really, How do you know him?  "He locked me up."  There are limits, beginning with the offense and the persons' demeanor and ending with just how far does courtesy extend, If you met me once through my wife should you be dropping my name and expecting courtesy?  A number of characters will pull this one as soon as they hear you're a cop, especially if they're poor drivers.  After a one time meeting they'll remember your name and what department you work for for the rest of their life, but you probably won't remember their first name.  One thing nobody mentioned is the easy way to check out the relationship between a name-dropper and a colleague for minor MV violations.  Take all the person's info and tell them you're going to speak with so-and-so and if they're not such good friends they can expect a present in the mail.  As far as associate members, my union doesn't have them, I extend courtesy for minor things to associate members, but I am firmly against Associate Member Shields.  What's next, associate member badges?  I firmly believe we earn those shields every day, doing the job. I don't think it's right that someone can decide they want one and go out and buy it.  They should stick with the nice little window stickers that distinguish "Associates" from "Members."

          -Stay Safe

 

July 5, 2004

I started my career in NJ.  Now working in FL.  These guys her would write their own families a ticket.  I miss the brotherhood of up there.

          -Anonymous

 

July 2, 2004

I agree wholeheartedly! The man is uniform is always right and you should show him the respect you would want if the roles were reversed.

          -Anonymous

 

July 2, 2004

Have any fellow officers here ever ticketed an associate member of their union?  I personally offer the same professional courtesy to them since they are supporting us unless of course they are arrogant or committing a  violation outside the realm of "minor" traffic violation. 

There are a number of associate FOP members in South Jersey and I am trying to get a feel for how others handle them.  

          -Officer Mike

 

July 2, 2004

Excellent article !!!!  I couldn't agree with you more..  I have been stopped a few times by my brothers, and have always shown them the professional courtesy they deserve, and have never been written..  I have also stopped numerous off duty officers - a few of which have been given rides home - and have never, and will never issue them a summons - even the ones who have had a little of the attitudes !!!  as for the veterans, and families of law enforcement - whatever can be done for them, is always done !!!  no question about it !!

          -Anonymous

 

June 24, 2004

"Agree 100% ....have seen it both ways over my 25 yrs of service in jersey...Now I live in Florida and you're right ...Some don't respect the members of their own department let alone someone from out of state ....Be extra careful when driving down here."

          -Retired in Florida

 

June 23, 2004

"An old topic with a new twist--a call for responsibility.  Good work.  If strictly followed, public support for this (unofficial) policy should be easy to obtain.

If my reading of your ed. was correct, "professional courtesy" should be limited to any non-DWI "stop" where there is a strong likelihood the case, if pursued, would remain at the Municipal Court level."

          -JOHN, 

          -Trenton

 

June 18, 2004

"This topic is very touchy. Many of the issues raised are good ones. The only thing that gets to me is when you stop ( or attempt to stop ) city cops/ correctional officer while on their way home, ( by me, work, out in the " sticks " Granted they are " on the job " but show some courtesy. I would do anything and everything to make the stop go well and almost never write a summons, but you get those few people that are plain rude. I also see [some officers] with their PBA or FOP shields in their windows or with their uniform on driving like complete morons!  Mostly, on Route 78. My personal opinion is that we are all in this together, but if you roll up on a marked patrol unit, and still pass it. That makes my blood boil, especially during daylight hours when other motorists are able to see. At that point, I Really want to write a summons. I will always extend the courtesy to anyone one the job, and even go a little further in some situations, but they have to respect me, before they get the respect.  It's not that hard to look at yourself and say " I'm in uniform, I should at least try and set some type of example." I guess a lot of people now in this profession don't care.  Be Safe everyone!"

          -Anonymous

 

June 18, 2004

"I agree with your whole article. You nailed it on the head! However it seems as though the southeastern departments look to screw the northern PD's. I have heard many stories over the years of northern PD's getting harassed for minor stuff. This shouldn't be! We are all a big family and need to support one another."

          -Anonymous

 

June 18, 2004

"To the June 14 2004 View on Professional Courtesy....Bravo for telling it as it is! Remember that old cliché "Garbage In - Garbage Out". Call it what you may but If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...well you get the point!!!"

       -   Old Timer... and still proud of my profession

 

June 18, 2004

"I AGREE WITH THE ARTICLE ABOUT PROFESSIONAL COURTESY, BUT WHEN  SOMEONE IS GOING TO SAY ESSEX COUNTY IS THE WORST AND IM SURE THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT THE CITIES THAT WE KNOW AS THE DIRTY FOUR. JUST REMEMBER WHAT WE IN ESSEX COUNTY DO."

          -Anonymous

 

June 15, 2004

"Whoever wrote The June 14, 2004 Your view posting "Professional Courtesy" hit it right on the nose. I have only been on the road just over 4 years now, however growing up in a Police family, I get what he is saying. There are quite a few guys I work with that I wouldn't trust as far as I could throw them. They will write your family members and sleep with your Wife/Girlfriend or Daughter if she was old enough. There is no mutual respect or morals anymore. Who can we trust if we can't trust each other? Who has YOUR back? A wise Cop once told me, "You don't mess with a Cops woman or a Cops paycheck." Something we all need to think about!"

          -South Jersey

 

June 15, 2004

"In a follow up to this, I think it may be beneficial, especially to new officers, on what they should do if they get stopped. "Old-Timers" throw their badge out the window...NOT A GOOD IDEA.. It sends a message to the public saying they are above the law and also produces a risk for the stopping officer that a shiny metal object is coming out the window, much like a weapon would appear. Think about this.. Be Safe."

          -Anonymous

 

June 15, 2004

"Well said, send this to the academies. New guys come out and they already know everything."

          -Anonymous

 

June 15, 2004

"Professional courtesy-- a lot of it is based in the quality of training and the morale of the officer/dept. Having a badge is a privilege that can be so easily stripped away today. As far as having weights in the prisons, I'd rather see them doing more road details and having them go in the cities and clean up the trash and fix up the bombed out communities that they contributed to their demise. Most are in for drugs, send them back to clean up in the areas they were dealing in so their cronies can laugh at them."

          -Anonymous

 

June 14, 2004

"Professional Courtesy? Lets be honest with this hypersensitive topic...This rebuttal is going to ruffle a lot of feathers but times have changed and I mean with the caliber of personnel entering the law enforcement community. If you are on the job 20 years or more you can empathize the nature of the beast. Officers today, in my opinion, don't have that brotherhood, cohesiveness of self-respect for each other. To the majority of officers today, it's a paycheck, a way to make a living to support themselves or their family. Years ago, if you had a problem with a fellow officer on your department, you settled it amongst yourselves. Not the case today, officers now go to court and sign criminal complaints against each other or sign a complaint for sexual harassment. Years ago if an officer ever did the unimaginable actions stated above, he or she would be looking for a new line of work. Most officers today never served a day in the military, where you learn respect, self-control, authority, discipline and restraint. Standards of qualifications   (credentials) have changed in becoming a police officer today. You can now have a criminal record for certain crimes and still be eligible to apply and get hired, unprecedented years ago. I do agree with "Professional courtesy begins with the officer being stopped, not with the officer making the stop." There was always that exception, that "wise ass" that blatantly disrespected you and the profession. So why is professional courtesy on the decline………if you don’t have reverence for yourself or your chosen profession….how can you have respect for your fellow officer!!

          -Anonymous

 

June 10, 2004

"Once again, this was another well written editorial.  The topic of professional courtesy is a hot topic. While I am personally hard pressed to ever write a fellow officer, I have had my experiences where ce="Arial" size="2" color="#000080">"Once again, this was another well written editorial.  The topic of professional courtesy is a hot topic. While I am personally hard pressed to ever write a fellow officer, I have had my experiences where they have begun the contact on a bad note and made me wonder why I even bothered to let them off the hook.  I have been embarrassed the times that I have been stopped.

However, where do we draw the line?  Family members, neighbors, friends, or certain members of another officer’s home or work community.  It seems to me that it should be based upon the nature and dangers of the offense, along with attitude of the motorist.

There is no excuse for driving while intoxicated, by officers, family members, or anyone else on the roads.  Any officer who personally does this is a real fool.  Just risk everything that you have probably worked hard for – nice pay check, pension, secure job, and so forth.  For us to be critical and talk bad about officers who do their job and arrest drunk drivers is childish and irresponsible.  Instead, we should be thanking them for possibly saving that persons life, and the lives of others.  Fines and license suspensions will not kill them. If they were arrested, there have probably been others where they were never stopped, or were simply let go.

The courtesy card issue is a whole other thing.  Everyone now has some sort of card, be it from the PBA, FOP, Honor Legion, or any other association.  It is impossible to determine who actually issued these cards on many occasions, and in my opinion, makes the card worthless.  We should be confiscating worthless cards and returning them to our unions, even if a summons is not issued.  And, in some cases, a summons should also be issued, again depending on the nature of the offense and attitude of the motorist.

Courtesy is a two way streak.  I have had many people sticking courtesy cards in my face, and while literally screaming at me that it was “impossible” that they were speeding, etc.  Forget it.  Every person who I give a card to is advised to pull over immediately when signaled, interior light on (at night), stick the card with other documents, apologize, and be polite.  Especially with the existence of the MVR.  They are also told if they were drunk, suspended, or committed a serious traffic offense, I want to hear that they got charged accordingly (and they don’t get a replacement card).

Also, don’t call my Department screaming that I gave someone a summons.  There have been many times where I first learned of your relationship or friendship from your call, and not during the stop.  If you want to talk to me in a professional, civil, and understanding fashion, perhaps I can help negotiate a plea agreement.  Don’t ask me to outright dismiss a summons, I feel that the original editorial said it well enough.

Professional Courtesy does, and should encompass a lot more than just traffic enforcement.  If you, your kids, or spouse get a flat tire, I am going to try to help them change it (and we don’t change flats).  If you live in my town and you need a lift somewhere nearby, I am going to try to help you out.  If you are home and need a hand moving something inside of your house, I’ll even help you with that.

And finally to PAPD, you guys and gals are the greatest at the airports.  Thanks for always being helpful and courteous."

          -Anonymous

 

June 10, 2004

"One unfortunate demonstration of a lack of professional I have encountered comes from living in a different jurisdiction from the one that I work in. I find that my brother officers (with some exceptions of course) regard me with a peculiar attitude because I am not employed by their agency. This attitude is encountered despite having personally assisted some of these officers while off duty and asking nothing in return. My general feeling is that an agency's attitude towards Professional Courtesy tends to be derived from the top down. Their is one department in the county that I live that has had the reputation for years of issuing traffic tickets to everyone they stop regardless of profession. This was a directive from the top apparently. My personal response to that was never to drive through that town in a manner to warrant a ticket and thereby put a fellow officer in an awkward position. I think that some people feel that professional courtesy is "Old School." But my answer to that is...that school has been around all these years, it must be doing something right. And as far as the veterans are concerned...I shake their hands and say "Thank you." They deserve at least as much."

          -Anonymous

 

June 10, 2004

"A-Men...I wish somebody from the [unions for several Essex County agencies] could distribute this to their members, because they seem to be the worst when it comes to being "that Off duty Officer" on a stop.  Once or twice is forgivable, but just about every time...It gets old and and frustrating after a while."

          -Anonymous