In Bullethead's February column ( Slip, Slide & Away: Accept Freebies and Take a Ride Down a Slippery Slope, p. 80), Paycheck to Paycheck asked, How could taking a discounted meal hurt anything or anyone, especially when the owner wants to do it? Bullethead's reply, in a nutshell: It's unethical. This struck a nerve among police officers across the country, eliciting numerous letters.
I enjoy reading Bullethead s column, and after reading Slip, Slide & Away, I can say I understand his point and agree we should not expect people to give us free stuff. As a matter of fact, we have a policy regarding this issue. However, I don t agree with the statement that receiving free or discounted food affects our decision-making abilities. I don t believe anyone owes us this stuff, but if they offer it to us it s because they appreciate what we do. Everybody from car dealerships to restaurants to bars gives discounts to military personnel, and they don t expect anything in return. They do it because they appreciate what the soldiers do for us. I don t see any difference in providing discounts for police officers. If anything, military personnel get way more discounts than police officers ever have.
I also think it s funny how people joke about the reason cops are always at gas stations is to get free stuff, but the same people don t say anything about soldiers getting free or discounted stuff. I stand behind our soldiers 100 percent. They put their lives on the line fighting in other countries for our freedom; we put our lives on the line every day here trying to protect the same people. This has nothing to do with ethics. It has to do with private citizens being kind, a trait a lot of people lack nowadays.
Aaron Tabing, detective Haysville (Kan.) Police Department
The attitude expressed by Paycheck to Paycheck reflects statements I heard in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and still hear today. The attitude always seems to come from someone who s been on the job for just a few years. I ve been in law enforcement since 1975, and yeah, I m an old guy and still on the job.
Bullethead is 100 percent on target. The problem with this issue and so many more like it is law enforcement is not a job but a calling, a way of life. We are held to a higher standard of conduct. Actions of lawyers, doctors or other professionals that reflect poorly on them or cause embarrassment would get any police officer fired and decertified for life.
More is expected of us by everyone because we are the people who, in the most difficult of times, have unlimited access to people s private lives. We are the ones they call upon in the most desperate and damning situations. We are called because we are trusted with their lives, their children and their property. We have a duty and obligation that demands the best in us and of us. Any conduct that dismisses our character or weakens the public trust in us destroys us as professionals and people.
Given the demands of our individual assignments, we are all underpaid. I don t know of anyone in law enforcement who has an easy ride when it comes to dealing with day-to-day costs and monthly bills. This is why we work overtime and so many of us have second jobs. However, we willingly agreed to take on an obligation when we started wearing the badge. We all need a reminder from time to time that a freebie is never really free and that anything costs something.
My ethics instructor in the academy was a retired Dade County, Fla., detective, who worked for a number years in Internal Affairs. He summed it up by using the example of Caesar s wife. In the days of the Roman Empire, the one person who could not be involved in scandal or misconduct was the wife of the ruler. She had to be above reproach at all times. Cops have to be the same and remain above reproach. Keep up the good work.
Alan Walker, detective
Maricopa County (Ariz.) Attorney s Office
I've never felt the urge to write to someone about their opinion. We all have our own, and one may not be any better than the other. However, I took Bullet-head s opinion personally. For 10 years now, I ve worked in a small community where everyone knows everyone. I don t ask for special treatment from any of our local eating establishments, but I, along with fellow officers, do receive a discounted meal at certain ones. What I gather from Bullethead s column is this makes me and my co-workers bad cops. Well, he s wrong. There is no looking at something in just the right big-picture sort of way. The law is the law, and that s what I took an oath to uphold. Everyone should be treated equally regardless of race, creed, color or restaurant ownership.
I really took offense when he stated, You are worse than those bad cops who just openly take money, though, because at least they know they re bad cops . He is way out of line making this statement. I cannot be bought period! I just don t see how he can compare a police officer who doesn t pay full price for a meal to one who takes bribes. Gathering from his opinion, I guess officers should not have any friends as well. Don t you think an officer would be more inclined to give his buddy a break than a complete stranger? I ve given a good friend of mine a reckless-driving summons for spinning tires. The same goes for him as it does for any restaurant owner.
In my opinion, Bullethead s opinion is way off base. I do accept discounted meals and will continue to do so, but I do not give out favors to anyone who has broken the law. Thank you for your time, and I enjoy reading his column. Looking forward to next month.
After reading Bullethead s Slip, Slide & Away column, I know several things. Number one: He has never worked in one of the thousands of small towns (pop. 500 2,000) in one of the 13 southern states. Number two: He is apparently incapable of answering a question with two or three paragraphs. I counted 13 rather long, rambling paragraphs. Number three: He owes the good, honest, hard-working cops an apology for lumping them together with criminals. Number four: He apparently doesn t understand that what may be policy for Chicago, New York or Philadelphia does not work in rural southern areas. I m a 30-year veteran cop, and I found Bullethead s answer to be self-righteous, arrogant and condescending. He could have done much better. Think about it.
J.D. Tyler, 30-year veteran
I want to thank Bullethead for his reply to Paycheck to Paycheck. He stated, You are nuts to even ask this. I felt the same and couldn t believe what I was reading. I agree with Bullethead 110 percent. I wish all cops nationwide took the same attitude he does on ethics.
Michael C. Moon, chief
Ovilla (Texas) Police Department
It's refreshing to read someone who will tell it like it is without fear of hurting someone s feelings. I see a lot of cops who get all whiny when told something s wrong with the way they conduct themselves or get advice on a different way to handle things. Isn t that what supervisors/fellow officers are there for? To offer different ideas on how to handle things. You take some advice, adjust it and take what works, leaving with more knowledge and ideas.
That said, Paycheck to Paycheck s letter to Bullethead really pissed me off. There are a few restaurants and coffee shops within my jurisdiction that offer deals such as those Paycheck mentioned: free coffee or soda, discounted meals, etc. One such establishment in my area charges $1 no matter what you order. I ve expressed my willingness to pay full price, but each time it was refused. To counteract this, I tip the difference between the discount and full price, or, if at a table, also add the additional amount for the waitperson. At the coffee shops, if payment is refused, I ll simply place the money on the counter. If the cashier keeps it, I still paid for what I purchased.
A lot was said in the academy about this exact issue. Although it may seem innocent, accepting items for free will make the establishment feel empowered to additional services, and also may justify what some Joe Public boneheads believe about cops. I made the best decision in my life when I enrolled at the academy, and even with the years passing, I still pin that badge on my chest with great honor and pride. As police officers, we volunteer to be held to a higher standard, and with jerks like this tainting our image, it only makes our jobs harder. You become a cop to serve and protect something greater than yourself, not for the fringe benefits.
John Brogan, patrol officer
Womelsdorf (Pa.) Police Department
I appreciate all letters from all the hard-working cops out there. I especially like the ones that agree with me, but I ll happily take feedback from confused people as well. I also would like to know a bit more about how ethics are somehow different in the 13 southern states.