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Saturday December 5, 1998

Laws and Scofflaws

By Andrew Ping, Syndicated Columnist

Whether or not every punishment should be made to fit the crime, it is pretty clear that most crimes and disorders fit the culture.

BERKELEY - Those sworn to uphold the law shouldn't be breaking it. Not in the smallest way. And yet, we see it happen all the time. While most of our police officers are law abiding citizens who are trying to do their job honestly and well, some don't seem to care about obeying the codes they've learned to get their jobs, and which they're obligated to enforce.

Several days ago, I was driving on streets that accommodated one lane of traffic in each direction. Having stopped for a light, I was surprised to see someone pull up to my right. When the light turned green, we both started moving, and the other car pulled ahead and around me and kept going straight.

This rude little maneuver is common these days, but to my surprise, the other car was a police cruiser. The officer wasn't pursuing a call; he didn't speed up or turn on his lights or siren, but instead cruised on at a leisurely pace.

More than irritated, I was outraged that he felt that he could break the law by passing and changing lanes in an intersection. It only takes a few negligent police officers to ruin the reputation of a department.

It is too bad that instead of telling our children that if they are lost they should look for a police officer, we must teach them, by example, to offer trust sparingly, even to the police officer we support.

Why such behavior by the very people who are charged with enforcing the law? If police feel they are above the law, they will be careless or in their personal oversight and fail in the primary duty to the public. Still, they are accountable.

Our officers intentions are good. Their actions, however, are not above public scrutiny. The police power to make and enforce laws is a grant from the people under the U.S. Constitution Article I, Sec. 8.

Citizens should not be afraid to file a complaint at City Hall when they witness police officer infractions. Civic cooperation is the cement of our culture.

"American democracy cannot function without principled behavior to hold it together," Alexis De Tocqueville said. Through equality democracy questions itself and is subject to question by others.

This is the ideal of American society. Mark Twain, perhaps, had a more earthy view of it, when he wrote "My idea of our civilization is that it is a shabby poor thing and full of cruelties, vanities, arrogancies, meanness, and hypocrisies." Since no one has come up with something better, I'll follow Twain's example and stick with what we've got.

[Editor's Note. Andrew Ping writes the 'View from the terrace' Column for the Fresno Republican Newspaper every Friday.]


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