Raleigh’s new Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center (The Emerald City of Oz). Image from last week’s presentation before the City Council.
Back in the old pre-crash days, my relationship with the man was never what you’d call adversarial, more professional in a perverse sort of way, merely a component of the operational conditions which occasionally didn’t go my way.
“My job is to have fun,” I told one arresting officer as he cuffed me. “Your job is to try and catch me. You caught me.” He made this sort of muffled, choking sound.
“But you’re gonna have to catch me every time!” Then he laughed. I had a good run with the not being caught part. That was the sum of my relationship with law enforcement—nothing personal, just business. The policeman’s lot is not a happy one, in part courtesy of jerks like me.
As with another even lower paid, necessary occupation, schoolteacher, the demands on the fuzz are constant and at times overwhelming. A good cop is something like a cross between a hall monitor, psychiatrist and a priest/rabbi. Lord knows, somebody has to do it. The nature of the job sets up a dualistic and adversarial relationship (a wall) between them and everybody else (one my skinny free thinkin’ self sure wouldn’t be crazy about being part of). The legislative bodies make stupid laws and the guys and girlies in blue have to go enforce them, as with the drug laws, now under deserved and long-forestalled scrutiny for the failure they are. Come on, fess up, cops and legislators, how many of y’all smoke weed every now and then? I for one had a Baltimore Homicide guy bragging about the indoor grow operation he was going to rig up after his retirement.
A fine example of the lack of respect and consideration would be Raleigh government chomping at the bit for the new $226 million headquarters while RPD is having an officer retention, um, problem. The old capo of the School of Design (College of Design) shop, Hubert Champion, had a saying, “don’t make vast plans with half vast ideas.” The now-imaginary Emerald City of Oz reminds me a lot of that wisdom. What good is a new PD headquarters when you don’t have people to fill it? Oz is destined to be finished in a decade or two and these jokers downtown can’t even figure out how to keep a full complement of cops in a cupcake jurisdiction like Raleigh. Not to disparage the work law enforcement do in Raleigh, this blast is directed at the city daddies and mommies: one of the lowest crime rates in the state (depending on the zip code) and you are having trouble with officer retention? I’ve lived in some real crime towns: NYC; Gainesville, Florida; Oakland, California. The average police officer in those places would bolt for Raleigh in a Dallas second if things were equal. The fact that this burg can’t prevent its officers from hanging up their handcuffs points to problems that a new building won’t fix: something to do with promotion and, you guessed it, pay.
I witnessed City Council prattling on about the City of Oz and the cop retention thing not twenty minutes apart at the City Council meeting on December 2nd. Numbing.
Due to shortfalls, the department has officers on 12, let me spell it, TWELVE hour shifts. Think about driving around in a squad car for a shift and a half for a week or so. The best Raleigh offers by way of reward is comp time, which most cops can’t opportune themselves of because of the demands of the understaffed duty roster. Comp time is a use-it-or-lose-it situation. When the year runs out, so do your comp-time hours. Overtime? Fuhgetaboutit. Russell Allen, the city manager, spoke vaguely about the cost of overtime. Let’s see, y’all are getting ready to throw down another big ole huge-ass stack of bills on your pretty new home, adding to Raleigh’s rising level of indebtedness, while at the same time you can’t retain cops because you don’t pay them enough to live? You don’t need me to tell you that we have problems, right here in River City. Hey, Charlotte doesn’t seem to be suffering with this “problem,” but what do they know, the show-offs, with their fancy pants mass transit and all.
The rules of order and proper decorum nearly came unhinged when a suggestion made to police officers was repeated in council: supplementing their take-home with off-duty work. That was when I almost lost it. I bit my tongue and did not start yelling, “You expect these people to ride around in a squad car for twelve hours THEN go and watch the door at a nightclub somewhere? When are they supposed to get some fuggin’ sleep?”
Before we get blinded by another glittering bauble under the Christmas tree, let’s think about this. Every time we turn around, those who claim to operate in the people’s interest are stacking yet another grandiose hallucination on the taxpayers, visions that serve to enrich the usual suspects, consultants, planners, architects, contractors, suppliers, lah-tee-tah—the Convention Center. The paint isn’t even dry and the city is being forced to offer huge discounts to find customers, just as I predicted a few years ago. People, let’s make better use of what we have. First of all, let’s put our cash where our priorities are, in public safety, and do more for our people than attempting to placate them with silly empty suggestions.
Or, we could stay the course and save money with more of the medicine the city is taking, whatever it is. Raleigh’s fiscal issues could, by inaction, be ameliorated via officer attrition. Just run the entire police force off! No overtime, no benefits, no pesky salaries. Think of the savings! Oh, hold me!