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I had my first encounter with a local law enforcement officer on my way home from work the other night when I came upon a driver’s license checkpoint on Old Georgetown Road.
The state trooper, whose name I didn’t catch, politely asked to see my driver’s license, checked it and checked the license plate on the back of my car. I let him know right away that my license had an outdated address because I’d only just moved to the area a week earlier. He let me know I could change it online, returned my license and sent me on my way with a warning to be careful. I thanked him and told him to be safe.
The whole exchange took all of about two minutes. There was no friendly chatting or belligerent words—just an uneventful traffic stop that caused me only the slightest delay. In fact, I was happy to see officers out keeping our roads safe even on a Monday evening after a big summer holiday.
The very same thing could have happened in Rutherford County, Tenn., on July 4. Chris Kalbaugh, 21, recorded video footage of his stop at a DUI checkpoint that night when he was told to pull over, get out of his car, and then had his vehicle searched by a K9 unit. The young man was innocent of any crime, but he certainly did his part to aggravate the deputy who stopped him. Now the footage has gone viral on the Internet and gained national attention.
It’s clear to me Kalbaugh deliberately provoked Deputy A.J. Ross. Had he just complied with Ross’ request to roll down his window all the way, he, too, could have been back on his way with little delay.
I think my favorite part of the footage is that, in the process of editing it and posting it to YouTube, Kalbaugh complained about how the dog scratched his car. “Well, yeah, dummy,” I thought while watching it. “If you had just done what the officer asked you to do in the first place, a K9 unit would have gone nowhere near your vehicle.”
Kalbaugh was trying to make a point about his rights as a motorist and trying to suggest that law enforcement officers overstep their authority at these traffic checkpoints, offering his footage as proof. I get it. But here’s the thing: Having a driver’s license is a privilege, not a right. If you use one, you are expected to obey the law. That includes complying with officers at a traffic checkpoint.
No, Kalbaugh wasn’t offensive and he didn’t violate any laws. Ross didn’t violate any laws, either. Rudeness isn’t a crime (although sometimes I wish it was). Yes, they both could have handled the situation better than they did.
It’s silly to antagonize anyone who’s trying to do his or her job, whether he or she is a cop or a waiter or receptionist. Why goad him or her into behaving unprofessionally? For a “gotcha” moment you can share with the world in the hopes of getting attention? Really, if that’s your idea of fun, maybe you should look into taking up a more productive hobby.
Now it’s a whole different story if, in the course of being an ordinary person out in public, you’re able capture an obvious case of abuse or wrongdoing. Say for example, in this case, the footage showed an officer beating a young man within an inch of his life. That would be absolutely uncalled for, and to share that footage on a worldwide platform would have done more good than harm.
Full disclosure: I was a police reporter for many years and, although I covered many beats in my years as a reporter, I’ll always be a police reporter at heart. Naturally, I count law enforcement officers—police, deputies, police chiefs, sheriffs, state troopers, U.S. marshals, FBI agents—among my friends. When they are on the clock, however, they should (and do) treat me the same way they treat anyone else. They expect the same of me and respect me enough to know I have a job to do, too.
Experience has taught us all that there is no such thing as a routine traffic stop (if you need further proof, just ask the two officers who arrested a man in Leland after responding to a disturbance last week). So whichever side of one you happen to be on, be careful—and be courteous.