Love The Police

By Scott Davidson from United States (Police Car Lights) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Scott Davidson from United States (Police Car Lights) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I was recently  blasting south down I-5 on my motorcycle, pushing 80 mph as the city of Shasta Lake disappeared in my rear-view mirrors, when the traffic began to slow, for no apparent reason.

The car, van and truck occupying the two left lanes in front of me had slowed to less than 70 mph, the legal speed limit, and formed a sort of blockade I couldn’t get around. I dropped in behind them, eyeing the foreboding dark clouds hanging over the eastern foothills, my destination some 40 miles away.

I was eager to get the big Beemer home before my leathers got drenched by the first storm of the season.

There are three lanes on that particular stretch of highway and a car was in the far right lane, just far enough ahead of the traffic in the left two lanes to contemplate a pass. It would take a little speed and some fancy driving, but it could be done.

I followed along impatiently for a half-minute or so until I’d had enough. I dialed up the throttle, swooped past the traffic on the right side and veered back in front of it with room to spare, only then noticing that the car in the far right lane I had just passed was a CHP cruiser.

Doh!

How many times in the past have I arrived at exactly this same configuration on the highway?

Everyone sees the CHP cruiser and slows down because they’re afraid they’ll get a ticket and the traffic scrunches up like an accordion. How could I be so stupid? The cruiser’s blue lights flashed before I could answer the question.

I looked back at the cruiser, acknowledged the fact that I’d been busted, and pointed to the right lane. I signaled and changed into the right lane, the cruiser slotting in behind me. I slowed down, pulled onto the shoulder and brought the Beemer to a complete stop. I watched in my left rear-view mirror as the cruiser pulled up to a stop 50 feet behind me.

I was acutely aware I was about to have a face-to-face encounter with law enforcement, like thousands of Americans do every day. For the past three years, we’ve been inundated with news stories about such encounters going fatally wrong. Almost every one of those stories begins with a civilian disobeying a lawful order made by a police officer. Stay calm, I told myself, and behave yourself!

I’ll reluctantly admit that in the past, I haven’t always behaved myself during police encounters. Many years ago, I lived in a small, nameless northern California town. At the time, I was in a highly volatile relationship that resulted in multiple domestic disturbance calls. On two of those calls, I didn’t behave myself. The first time the cops pepper sprayed me and gave my ribs a good bruising. The second time they tased me.

After each of these incidents, I attempted to righteously prosecute what I saw as a ridiculous, unlawful use of police force against my 170-pound body. I got nowhere. Eventually it dawned on me that both incidents were my own damned fault for not conforming to standard police etiquette, for not behaving myself during the initial encounter.

I had it coming, both times.

That’s the hard truth, but the good news is, I’m still alive and now I understand the etiquette. Contrary to popular opinion, police don’t generally stop you for doing nothing. There was no question that I’d pulled a bonehead move right in front of the trooper. It was time to sit still, shut up and take my figurative lumps.

I straddled the bike and with my hands in plain view, removed my gloves and placed them on the gas tank in front of me. Then I removed my wallet from my jacket pocket and placed it on top of my gloves. I returned my gaze to the left rearview mirror and waited for the for the state trooper to emerge from the cruiser.

And waited. And waited. Where was he?

“Over here!” came a voice on my right.

Sweet Jesus!

He had approached me from behind on the right side and I hadn’t seen him. I wear ear plugs when I ride so I hadn’t heard him either. He was my age, a little taller, with close-cropped silver hair and a handsome face that was trying its best suppress the grin resulting from the scare he’d given me. The grin was encouraging.

“Take your helmet off,” he said.

I’ve been stopped on the motorcycle before, but for whatever reason, no one has ever asked me to take my helmet off before. It seemed like a good idea though, because I couldn’t take my ear plugs out without taking my helmet off, so I took my helmet off.

In doing so, I shed the layer of anonymity that comes with wearing a full-face helmet. I’ve got one of those mugs that, if I’ve done even the slightest thing wrong, there’s no way my face is going to be able to hide it. I could already feel the sheepishness creeping into my features.

He motioned for my license which was already out and I handed it to him. He studied it. It has my address in the eastern foothills on it.

“Are you in a hurry?” he asked.

There was no point in lying. My face had already given me away.

“Well, I was hoping to make it home before it rains.”

“Let me see your registration and insurance.”

I handed him my registration and the card from the insurance company I’ve had for more than 20 years. My registration is current and so is my insurance, but the card is out of date. It’s reason enough to go back to the cruiser and run a records check on me.

What if he did? The only charge that ever stuck relating to the incidents above was expunged long ago, but law enforcement have access to expunged records. He could peg me as a cop hater, lord knows it’s going around, has been going around, way before Black Lives Matter, way before NWA came on the scene and “Fuck the Police” became the national anthem.

“Where you coming from?” he asked.

“Shasta Lake,” I said, immediately regretting it. In my mind, that fat southern sheriff from the Dodge Boys commercials drawled, “What you doing in Shasta Lake, boy?”

What is anyone doing in Shasta Lake?

Before I could think of any reason but the only reason, he handed me back my insurance card. I grabbed it but he held on to it before letting it go. Our eyes met.

“The rain isn’t going to hit until 7p.m.,” he said sternly. “Slow down. Pay attention to the traffic around you. Watch out for cops.”

“That’s good advice,” I said.

He smiled, then returned to the cruiser.

He was letting me go and I wasn’t about to squander the gift. He could have ticketed me for going more than ten miles over the limit, which I would have paid, no problem. He could have upped it to reckless driving, had he been feeling ornery and had I misbehaved. I would have taken that one to court. He saved us both the trouble by rendering judgement right there on the side of the highway.

I was a free man. I made a resolution to curb my enthusiasm on the motorcycle. I put my license, registration and insurance back in my wallet. I put my ear plugs back in, strapped on my helmet, fired up the bike and pointed it toward home.

He was right about the rain.

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas.
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27 Responses

  1. Randall R. Smith says:

    A couple of recent encounters were not as pleasant.  One was passing a string of weaving trucks on the Ashland Summit when I reached 65 mph and paid several hundred dollars for trying to get safe.  The other was answering a cell phone call from Officer Brannon where I only said I could not speak as I was driving and pulled over to find a most unpleasant traffic officer coming for a greeting (“I don’t care if you were talking to the President, you broke the law.”) and another expensive ticket.  Still, I agree.  Police are all we have between us and rampant anarchy which daily envelopes us and makes our lives miserable including my tiny wife being braced for money twice last week in Redding.

    Keep Calm and Carry On.

     

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I passed a line of logging trucks in Humboldt County once and got a ticket for that, years ago. As I recall, it was a major ticket, way more than other counties charge for speeding.

  2. cody says:

    If I was a cop, I would pull people over for going too slow, especially in the fast lane.  These slow drivers cause more traffic issues than those who are driving 5-10 MPH over the limit.

    • Grammy says:

      So going the speed limit is causing a traffic issue?  Should police give them a ticker for driving the speed limit even if it is in the fast lane?  Interesting turning a wrong into a right.

       

      • Rod says:

        Grammy, you make a good point.  I coincides with my own experiences.  Cody also makes a good point, if he’s talking solely about mc.  I don’t see the wrong/right thing here.

        If anything you guys describe how the general vehicle code and roads favor cars not motorcycles.  It’s a bit annoying to be stuck behind a slow mover.  The experts advise to pass whenever a slow mover is a rolling road-block.  Speed and agility favor mc, you need to be able to gas your way out of trouble.  Mc need only 1/2 half a lane.  What might look dicey to a car driver might be normal mc activity.  I personally feel that all the road between both fog lines is mc open.  Not so that I can straighten the curves, it’s so that I can break into the clear.

         

      • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

        It’s a fact of life that many drivers in California go about 5 mph above the speed limit.  Obstinate drivers who insist on taking the fast lane and going the speed limit just to make a point—with speeders passing them on the right—are a hazard to everyone.  The safest rule of thumb on the freeway is to maintain the speed of the cars in the lane you’re occupying.  If you want to go slower, the slower lanes are to the right.  Where there are three lanes, going the speed limit in the middle lane should be just about right.

        • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

          I go 10 mph over the limit. To me, that’s not speeding, and in the past, I’d probably complain about it if I got pulled over for it. I may still be suffering from PTSD from those two incidents.

          • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

            On I-5, I set my cruise control at 5 mph over the speed limit.

            Fight the power.  F*** tha police.

            (That’s self-deprecating irony there, folks.)

      • Lewis Chamberlain says:

        Vehicle code 21650.  In sum, you must move over to the right lane for anyone that is driving faster than you. Period.  Doesn’t matter how fast (or slow) you are driving.  You don’t know if someone is trying to get to the hospital, etc.  Bottom line…  stay right except to pass just like the signs say.   Well….. except of you are from Oregon and driving a Prius.  Apparently they’ve been given an exception by a higher power.

  3. Rod says:

    That’s a good ending for a CHP/motorcycle stop.  The kind us riders need to experience from time to time.  I’ve been stopped a couple times.  The most recent was up on 299 on the west slope of Hatchet Pass.

    I on my magic carpet machine got picked out of a string of 6 vehicles.  I was doing 74 mph,  so was everybody else.  The officer was great, I believe he feared for my safety.  The 2 of us basically hung-out talking and answering questions back and forth, no citation.  Hanging out at 4,000 elevation up near the summit was a small gift we seemed to enjoy. I came away with a strong respect for the man in blue who cared for me.

    I noticed that when I removed my helmet and earplugs the officer showed a big smile right in my face.  My white hair and whiskers eased the tension.  I was smiling back.  There was no conflict.

    Since then, I’ve reflected back onto the chance encounter and formed a mature memory.  The CHP helped me by removing my close location with the cars and pick-ups.  It’s always clear…..don’t trust cagers, they kill motorcyclists.  You can’t keep a safe distance in your front because somebody behind you is tailgating.  I normally outrun them because when I’m moving forward I’m in complete control.  The officer acknowledged the physical differences between cars and bikes which cause bikers serious safety concerns.  The roads and laws address vehicles in general, what is proper handling in a car might get a biker into a tight situation.

     

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I’ve always had a good experience with CHP, even when I’ve been ticketed. I think a lot of them ride motorcycles as well, and they do understand you can do things on a bike you can’t do with a car, and that the cagers are generally oblivious to bikers. I do however recall a time in Sacramento when an undercover SPD detective in an unmarked car tailgated me on his way home from work in heavy traffic. I split lanes to get away from him and he pulled me over! When I accused him of tailgating me, he threatened to arrest me. I beat the ticket in court, but it was a major hassle.

  4. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    R.V., I’m amazed you’ve never been pulled over for no reason. Scheide is German, right? How is it that you have the luck of the Irish?

    When I was a young man in Colorado, 19 or 20 and going through a long-haired cosmic cowboy phase (with lots of bumper stickers revealing my political leanings), it happened to me fairly regularly. Once, when returning to Steamboat Springs after a lengthy absence (college), I was pulled over on Main Street within minutes of my arrival. The officer informed me that he needed to “check my ID.” I’m no lawyer, but I suspect the concept of probable cause was being ignored. He then grilled me for good deal of time about why my Chevy Blazer was full of personal possessions, during which time a carload of my friends drove by—they honked and yelled “welcome home!” while laughing. That cop wouldn’t be satisfied that I was returning from college for the summer. He asked me at least five times if I had any marijuana in the vehicle. “If I go through the stuff in your vehicle, am I going to find any marijuana?” No, sir. (A true answer might well have been: Yes, sir.)

    Very near that time, in Denver, I was pulled over for no apparent reason. I asked the officer what I’d done, and he said, “Failure to signal.” I responded that I had signaled, and pointed out that in fact my signal light was still flashing.  He glared at me and said, “Don’t leave. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.” He went to his patrol car, got in, and drove off. Almost an hour later later, I sheepishly went on my way, half expecting to be pulled over and arrested for making a run for it. Nope. That would have constituted a major power-tripping incident. This had been just a minor power-tripping incident, apparently.

    Then there was the time I was heading up I-70 into the mountains from Denver in a vehicle that was incapable of speeding on the 7% grade. I had been keeping a wary eye on a Highway Patrol vehicle about a quarter mile behind me when I saw a sports car passing him going about 85 mph. I laughed as the speeder passed me on the left with the patrol car taking chase, lights flashing.  As the patrol car passed me, he suddenly slowed, pulled back behind me, and pulled me over. I asked why he pulled me over when he’d been chasing a speeder. He said that my tires were bald. When I again asked why he let the speeder go in favor of me, he said, “Don’t worry about him. This ticket is for you.” I went to court and got that one dismissed by having a tire shop confirm that the tires still had 20% tread live or better before they’d be unsafe. That’s the week the bumper stickers came off. I didn’t get pulled over for another 10 years.

    Here’s one we’ll call, “Driving while Californian.” I was working a project on the Siskiyou National Forest in SW Oregon—I had 21 biologists on the project.  It was early in the summer, and it had rained on us every day. Some of us had gone into Gold Beach for supplies one afternoon. As we left town and turned onto the county road alongside the Rogue River that took us back up into the mountains, a local cop pulled me over. I was being tailed by one of my crew leaders, who swung around and pulled over in front of me.  I asked the officer why I’d been stopped. He answered that I was speeding. My crew leader had rolled down his window and said that we were both going at least 5 mph below the speed limit. I told the officer that I also thought we were doing 30 in a 35 mph zone. The officer then explained that it had rained earlier that day, the road was still wet, and we were going faster than conditions allowed. He thanked my crew leader for confessing his guilt and issued us both citations. Meanwhile, Oregonians were passing us at 40-45 mph, one after the other. My crew leader paid his fine, but I flat out refused to pay mine for the next 20 years. It finally caught up to me when I needed to renew my CA license and it popped up as an unpaid traffic fine.

    As for Randall’s conclusion that the police are all we have standing between us and anarchy: This past Saturday I was sitting at a stoplight on Eureka Way. To my left, in front of the Subway sandwich shop, two dreadlocked young men had turned over the garbage receptacle and had scattered the contents over an area the size of a small room. On the opposite side of the street, two RPD patrol cars had pulled over a late model car to issue a traffic citation. The officers seemed willfully oblivious to what was going on across the street, though everyone else within 200 feet was watching both incidents unfold. Once the two young men had what they were after—a haul of discarded sandwich remains, I assume—they jumped on their skateboards and were off, leaving behind the huge scattering of trash. As they left, a driver behind me honked several times, out of anger and frustration, or to draw the attention of the cops. If the latter, it didn’t work—the RPD officers were absolutely focused on the task of generating a little citation revenue. That little vignette is representative of what I see all over town, and it all adds up to this:  So much for our bastion against anarchy.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I can honestly say I’ve never been pulled over when I wasn’t actually doing something wrong. I’ve never been big on bumper stickers or otherwise advertising there’s a potential criminal on board, so that’s never happened to me. It was pretty lame to give you a ticket for bald tires just because he couldn’t catch the sports car–but 20 percent tread left isn’t anything to brag about (as a motorcyclist I am perhaps more sensitive to the issue of tire wear). As far as the RPD and the vagrants go, why didn’t they make them clean their mess up and shove off? Is that within their job description? Be nice to know before voting on D & E.

      • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

        “Close Rocky Flats” = “Potential criminal on board.”

        “Gary Hart for Senate” = “Potential criminal on board.”

        “ERA Now!” = “Potential criminal on board.”

        Yeah, that’s pretty much how the cops read them, apparently.

        The problem wasn’t that the State Trooper couldn’t catch the guy going 85 mph. The problem was that he changed his mind about who he was chasing. And I admit that 20% left before being unsafe isn’t optimal (still more tread left than where you’d to pass a “coin test”), but I was an impoverished college student.   wasn’t going to replace tires that still had months of  life on them.

        As to your last question:  My darker side says that RPD is refusing to do much about the whole vagrancy/petty crime situation until they get what they want: More cops, jail cells, and money.  I’m voting yes on D & E, but don’t mistake that for a vote of confidence in our Police Chief.

        • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

          I think I may be a little older than you, but I can just see a cop profiling you for being a flaming liberal back in the day. In his admittedly addled mind, he probably figured there was a 50 percent chance you were holding. You could obviously beat any charge in court with a good lawyer, but I wonder how many who have been pulled over in similar circumstances and were holding were sent to jail? At any rate, expressing political beliefs can be dangerous! Especially these days.

          • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

            R.V., I’m two shy of 60.  Whatever the age gap between us, I’d guess we’re more or less in the same age cohort.

            They’d be wrong today, but those cops back in the day would have been correct more often than not about me holding.  That said, if expressing opinions equals probable cause in any era, we’re in sad shape.

            Believe it or not, what I post online locally reflects a measure of restraint—I worry constantly about how some of my sometimes contrarian Devil’s-advocate posts affect my wife’s career. Remarkably, she’s never asked me to put a sock in it.  I do get the occasional “Oh my God, what is your problem.”

        • Breakfast Guy says:

          In regard to D & E:  I’m not seeing an immediate need for additional cops and jail cells. (Perhaps developing a plan to relocate the jail away from downtown is a better idea. For one, the revolving door factor would be less convenient to serial vagabond offenders). The issues here seem more about a city with impaired ways and means, and vision.

          Again, D & E revenue would go into a general place where it may be partially or completely tapped later for a totally different priority. My tendency is to vote no, mainly for that reason.

          • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

            I think there is a pretty clear need for more jail space, but it should be funded through AB 109 at the county level, with as many state funds as we can get our hands on. I also think the county needs to start showing some results that tell us wtf is going on.

  5. cheyenne says:

    CHP use all kinds of lame excuses to pull cars over and search for DUI or drugs.  I once umpired a Friday night softball game at Buckeye and it didn’t get over until almost Midnight.  As I was driving down I5 to Anderson the CHP pulled me over.  Their excuse was they said I flipped a cigarette out the window.  I don’t smoke.  After looking in my van, with my permission, they told me I could go like they were giving me a break because I hadn’t been drinking.  On the flip side when I was working in Concord and commuting back to Anderson on the weekend I was stopped just north of Dunnigan by the CHP for speeding.  After telling him I was returning home late because of work and the next day was my wife’s birthday he let me go without a ticket.  His reason, he used to do a long commute until he was transferred closer to home and he understood my hast.  Though he did tell me to slow down which I did.

    As far as speeding when passing a line of vehicles Wyoming is pushing to make it legal to go over the speed limit when passing.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      LOL, you told him the next day was your wife’s birthday and he let you go. It seems like the CHP north of Dunnigan are regular nice guys. I do know that I tend to speed through that part of 1-5, especially if I’m returning home to California. It’s long lonely road.

      I have never experienced a cop outright lying about the reason for pulling me over, i.e. in your case, saying you threw a cigarette out the window when you don’t even smoke. I would be pissed if that happened to me, and in the past, I might have misbehaved–so I’m glad it hasn’t happened. Yet!

      • cheyenne says:

        Due to my late work schedule at the schools, cleaning up after games and dances, my drive home would occur about the time the bars closed and the police would use lame excuses , threw a cigarette out or was weaving or my license plate light was out, all the time looking for DUI.  A couple of times I was followed until I pulled in my driveway.  Though I was extra cautious at that time of night because I knew there were drunks on the road.

  6. A. Jacoby says:

    Love your story telling. Always a fun trip through the pithy forest of verbiage.

  7. Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    Wonderful article R.V.  I have some thoughts to contribute.  I believe that members of the CHP are the highest trained law enforcement agents we have in California.  I’m thrilled when I see them on the road. A CHP officer gave my friend and I a ride to her relative’s home after her car died on I5.

    I drive just under the speed limit, but at a speed where I believe I can control my car should a tire blow out, or the truck next to me have a blow out or swerve into my lane.

    I believe, and I told many students, that you should always be respectful in dealings with law enforcement officers, or anyone else who has a gun.  You called it “standard police etiquette” and everyone should know what that means.  Being pulled over is not the time to vent your anger about your life, the police, the economy or the election.  It’s the time to be calm and shut up.

    Again, thanks for a great article.

     

     

     

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      The CHP is kind of like a substitute teacher, monitoring the classrooms of our highways, ticketing the kids who think they can pick on the sub.

  8. Alice Bell says:

    I think the speed limit on I5 from Shasta Lake to south of Redding is only 65 mph. So that could have been an expensive ticket.

  9. Chad says:

    Yesterday I was pulled over by a CHP on Hwy 44 between Old station and Susanville.  Yes I was exceeding the 65 MPH  limit.  After he put on his lights, I immediately put on my turn signal.  There was not a good area to pull over on that stretch so I continued on for about 4 miles before I came across a safe area to pull over.  After the usual License, registration and proof of insurance, he returned to his cruiser.  He returned and handed me my documents back and said he was giving me a warning.  He reminded me that the speed limit was 65  not 80.  Needless to say 65 was the speed limit of the day for the remainder of the trip.  I gave the officer a big and heart felt thank you.

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