Not all cops are jerks, but this one was

Last night I had an unhappy encounter with an Illinois state trooper that irritated me enough to bother writing it down.

I've spent the last week meeting with business clients in Chicago and then Denver. Yesterday I flew back from Colorado to Chicago, after which I had to drive back to my home in WIsconsin. My flight arrived late Friday night at Chicago's Midway airport, and since the drive from their to my home is more than three hours, I knew I was in for a long night. It was already past midnight, and I was tired when I pulled into a rest area somewhere north of the city to get some food and take a break before driving the rest of the way home. I also wanted to buy some gas.

At night, however, navigation was a bit confusing. The entrance to the rest stop diverged into two forks, which I later realized were intended to separate cars from trucks before entering the gas station. I didn't see a sign indicating which was which, so I took the fork to the right, which sent me on a winding route past some diesel pumps to an area where a number of trucks were park a ways back from the rest stop. I kept expecting that the road would take me to the rest stop or to the gas pumps, but instead it seemed to be taking me back out to the highway. I saw a sign that said "to tollway," and I knew if I headed that way I'd miss my chance to get any food or take a bathroom break, which was also a matter of some urgency. I therefore turned my car back in the direction of the parked trucks to try to get back to the gas station and the rest stop.

At that point a police car which was parked by the truck flashed a light, so I braked my car and rolled down my window.

"What the hell are you doing?" I heard the cop shout through his PA system. "Do you want me to give you a ticket! Turn your butt around. You're going the wrong way!"

I was rather taken aback that a police officer, who presumably should have been trained to be polite in his dealings with the public, would initiate a conversation by using profanity and vulgarities. I tried to explain to him what I was trying to do. Every time I did so, however, he interrupted me with a shout of "Come on!" which was presumably his way of communicating that he thought my behavior was too stupid even to bother trying to understand.

"The sign back there said, 'to tollway,'" I told him. "I'm just trying to get to the rest stop."

"Come on!" he bellered again. "You can see the rest stop from here! Come on!"

Of course I could see the rest stop. That's why I was trying to get to it. I thought of trying to explain things again, but judging from the belligerence of his behavior, I thought it was best to just get out of there. There's not much point arguing with a jerk, especially when the jerk has a gun and has already threatened to give me a ticket. I therefore backed my car around and left, as he bellered "Come on!" at me one last time. As I headed back toward the "to tollway" sign, I realized that there was a left turn available just prior to the tollway sign, which enabled me to finally enter the parking area of the rest stop. I was able to at least get some food, although I was unable to find a way back to the gas station and therefore had to refuel at a second rest area further north. (The second rest area had the same design with forking paths separating trucks from cars, which was how I figured out what went wrong for me at the first rest stop.)

In the overall scheme of things, I know that this is a very minor incident. I've certainly had encounters with police in which the officers have been respectful, courteous and helpful, and I would not want to suggest that this guy was a "typical" cop. However, police are entrusted with significant authority and discretion in performing their duties. Every time a cop behaves in an unnecessarily rude or threatening manner, it undermines respect for that authority. I suspect also that there are certain personality types who choose policing as a profession because they look forward to having a bit of power that lets them act like a bully. Last night, unfortunately, I happened to run into one of the bad ones.

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