Lighten up, Francis…

BY T.F. STERN

There’s a news item via NBC that came up when I was flipping through headlines, Georgia officers on leave after coin-toss used to decide arrest . The article, written by Farnoush Amiri, Ethan Sacks and Kerry Sanders detailed the antics of a couple of cops having fun with a citizen; but it came across as anything other than funny.

“Two Georgia police officers have been placed on leave after video showed them using a coin-toss app before determining whether to arrest a woman caught speeding in April, and the police chief said he is “appalled” by the move.”

After reading the story my first reaction was, “Lighten up, Francis”, a reference to the movie Stripes that came out back in 1981.  There’s a scene where each member of the platoon was supposed say a little bit about himself, a way to get to know each other better. 

One soldier, Francis, wanted everyone to call him, Psyco, and anyone who called him Francis, “I’ll kill ya’” or if anyone touches his stuff, “I’ll kill ya’”. 

Sgt. Hulka leaned forward in his chair and said, “Lighten up, Francis”, and the entire platoon laughed it off.  There’s always going to be someone who takes things way too seriously.

Years ago, while working for the Houston Police Department they sent me out to enforce a brand-new, No Left Turn, traffic sign that had been installed in the Montrose area.  The purpose of the sign was tied to a recent trend of homosexual individuals cruising the area hoping to pick up like-minded individuals which generated a sustained parade of cars through one neighborhood.  It was hoped the change in traffic patterns might alleviate some cars traveling through the neighborhoods and keep them on the main roads.

As it turned out, two vehicles turned left in front of that sign at the same time and pulled over when I signaled them to the side.

The first vehicle’s driver was a Priest in full “cloth” and the other guy was one of the local hippies, for lack of a better term.  I got their driver’s licenses and immediately let the Priest go on his way, walking back toward the hippie.  The opportunity to have some fun had presented itself.

“I only have one ticket left in my book and it’s clear I couldn’t write the Priest.”  I looked the young man in the eye while reaching into my pocket for a coin.  “Tell you what…”, showing him the quarter and flipping it in the air, “…call it!”  I placed my hand over the quarter balanced on my shirt sleeve.

“You can’t do that, it’s not fair.”  The veins in his neck were swelling and he was tripping over his frustration while trying to contain his antagonism; call it fear or respect, he knew he was close to the limit.

“Come on kid”, in my best Arlo Gurthri Alice’s Restaurant imitation, “…heads or tails?  At least this way you have half a chance of getting off without a ticket.”  I let him dangle and fume for a few moments before showing him that I had a book full of tickets that I could have written and that I was just jackin’ with him.

The job of police officers isn’t supposed to be done by robots or automatons with a blank expression etched on their masks, each officer devoid of human expression while going about the task to Protect and Serve.  The folks in the Ivory Towers would like to think everything is done precisely by the book, within the confines of the Procedure Manual which defines exactly how each and every… 

I can hear Ed McMann from the old Tonight Show giving Johnny Carson the familiar lead in line…  “Every single way to encounter the public… each and every traffic stop has been included in this Operations Manual…

To which Johnny would pause, looking boyishly into the camera, flicking his eyebrows and forming a smile before continuing…  “Not so, Metamucil breath…”  Folks today are missing out on real entertainment; today’s substitutes for late-night comedy talks shows are just not that funny.

So, when I read two cops are in big trouble with their Chief for having fun on the job over a traffic violation…well, let’s hope there’s a Sgt. Hulka out there to square off with this Chief of Police, take it down a notch.

Lighten up, Folks.


t-f-stern-1Self-Educated American, Senior Edi­tor, T.F. Stern is both a retired City of Hous­ton police offi­cer and, most recently, a retired self-employed lock­smith (after serving that industry for 40 plus years). He is also a gifted polit­i­cal and social com­men­ta­tor. His pop­u­lar and insight­ful blog, T.F. Sterns Rant­i­ngs, has been up and at it since January of 2005.