Since moving from one side of Springdale to the other, I relish no longer traversing the jurisdiction of one small town in particular, which I will call TownBetween. While there are several fine officers there, it is strange to me that so many hilariously cringe-worthy stories continue to originate from there – yet, the fans of this police force vainly try to insist that there isn’t a problem, and that if you aren’t breaking the law, you have nothing to fear. Let me be the first to argue this point: where there is smoke, there is fire, and where there are short haircuts with batons and blank ticket books, there is trouble. Reputation once lost takes an insurmountable level of work to regain. When I drive through TownBetween, I constantly tap my brake, even if I’m driving so slowly that skateboarders are passing me. I look closely at the roadside, scanning intensely for either properly designated police vehicles, or million dollar Hummers and dark, deeply tinted ninja attack force vehicles paid for and maintained through what I can only to presume to be black magic. I worry that I won’t be able to show my papers quickly enough, as if I am trying to illegally cross a border during WWII. I won’t have to wipe my rear brake lights with a polishing cloth, in case the officers of TownBetween need a proposed reason to pull me over, nor will I need to use lab equipment to check my headlight brightness, tint thickness, or tread depth. Paranoia is a required trait for daily travel there and a CSI forensics degree will be helpful to you if you foolishly drive through there with any regularity. I don’t want to feel as if I’ll be in the basement of a hidden jail somewhere awaiting extradition to Poland.
One of the best aspects of moving across Springdale is that my exposure to TownBetween has lessened. I don’t want this to be an indictment of other departments, of course, but comparisons inevitably lead to less-than-stellar commentary. I love Springdale and I have never had a direct issue with a Fayetteville police office, even when I was really young and stupid. I’m old and stupid now, of course. I wrote this a couple of weeks after moving across town. Recent articles and comments lead me to realize that it’s still something a lot of people talk about. A car salesman yesterday told me he will never drive across TownBetween, and not just because he is Latino. He said driving there makes him feel like he is in a police lineup, waiting to be grabbed and asked a hundred personal questions, all of them implied accusations. His friends and family feel the same way.
Every department is comprised of individuals, each with his or her own idea of process and decorum. Above and beyond that, however, is an ideal which governs the entire police force. Reputation is a hard-earned coin and not all local law enforcement is administrated with an equal insistence on professionalism and courtesy. You can be the best officer on the roster in a department with a maligned reputation and your efforts will be difficult to trust. But even the “least officer” in a department characterized by a commitment to professionalism will be given the benefit of the doubt. That same “least officer,” reports to a command structure that will not condone or tolerate less than ideal behavior. As a citizen, this is how we learn to trust the police – one interaction at a time. An officer might make a poor decision or act hastily, but his or her peers and superiors will move to make it right. I don’t mind a little confusion or delay if I know I can trust it work out with consistency and fairness. Springdale’s officers represent the spectrum of their community. Mistakes will happen and great departments like Springdale won’t worsen a problem through concealment or deceit; if officers acted that way in the distant past, it might have squeaked by, but not any longer.
When I drive in Springdale, I do not flinch or instinctively hit the brake with so much force that my spare tire flies through the backseat. I expect that every officer I see is operating under a sense of priority and expediency. I also don’t imagine scenarios wherein there is doubt to automatically be interpreted in the most unfavorable light toward me. The police are here to keep us safe and to help us. It doesn’t occur to me that there might be quotas, or that the municipal court is going to do anything other than listen to any potential case to get to the bottom of the issues at hand. I won’t be getting emails from the police chief, ones which like they were written by a third-grader with both writer’s cramp and a lack of oxygen in the room.
When I discuss TownBetween with normal people, the predominant attitude is “Ugh, that place?” Many of these people aren’t miscreants such as me. They are doctors, lawyers, and teachers. They didn’t secretly get together and erroneously decide by cabal that they were going to detest driving in and through TownBetween. Most of the detractors are perplexed because only through sheer accidental geography were they there to begin with. Had a better route been available, they would have availed themselves to it. Guess what? Now many of them refuse to drive through TownBetween, no matter what the circumstances. It’s easier to avoid the bully than to fix the problem. That is what much of Northwest Arkansas does. Meanwhile, TownBetween insists the fog there is brought in by the outsiders and that only those breaking the law complain. (Yes, and you only need aspirin when you have a headache.)
I didn’t intend to water-down any compliment of the Springdale police as a result of my comedic derision of TownBetween. I was attempting to inelegantly say that I look forward to crossing the boundaries of TownBetween with must less frequency. If I want to live dangerously, I will instead stay home and rip the tags off my mattresses. I’ll stay in my borders of Springdale with more glee, waving at the officers I pass, knowing that they won’t assume the worst of us all. I’ve also noted a strange absence of military-style vehicles here. It has been very nice these last few months not needing to drive through TownBetween if I don’t want to.
TownBetween can continue on its merry way, reinforcing many of the horrid stereotypes that motorists hurl toward the Barney Fife little towns scattered across Arkansas. I’ll be over here, hoping for the day when the little town grows up and gets a police force like the one Springdale has – or gets assimilated by one of the bigger and better police forces.
Meanwhile, I’d propose a bypass around TownBetween, since we can’t dig it up and move it to the 19th century where it would fit in better. I’d like to remind them all that just because you can write a ticket, doesn’t mean you should. I once got a hilariously bad email from the Chief in TownBetween. He was insisting he couldn’t force his officers to the right thing, even when he knew they hadn’t acted appropriately.