Are police the last remaining humans who say “sir” and “ma’am”? We hear from lots of cops. He or she is often the only person we hear from who has met the (supposed) bad (usually) guys. They often refer to their police report, because they can’t remmeber whether this is the one who chanted horrific threats against the cop’s spouse, or the one who had to be literally hog-tied to keep them under control, or the one who sang some lewd and menacing version of “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” during the ride from the crime scene to the jail. It must be hard to keep them straight.
As they tell it, they are always respectful when confronting the accused, using sir and ma’am — Eddie Haskell without the dark side. When dealing with our questions, they are similarly, as if reflexively, formal. To be told “yessir” when he’s the one with square shoulders, square jaws, and a firearm on his belt — it’s a stange reversal.
It also shows up when there are cuss words involved. Each officer seems to have his or her own method of navigating this territory, but you can hear every one of them look both ways before crossing the line. We hear terms like “the F-word” or “effing this and effing that” or “expletive” or even “bad words” — but we seldom hear anyone repeat the word “fuck.” Even with the few who do, you can hear that small, look-both-ways pause before they utter it.
I wondered whether there’s any place in the world where those obvious beneficiaries of Natural Selection treat others not so fortunate with such respect. But I wonder only because my memory is short. All this was certainly true in high school. When called to the principal’s office, even the star full-back would cower to the malnourished principal behind the big desk with all the diplomas framed behind him. Even if you were called to the office because you saw something bad happening, you didn’t want to give a bad impression, just in case they found out about that Playboy stuffed in your locker or the time you brought back the burrito for lunch from off campus for a buddy but “forgot” to give him his change. You’re sitting there in the uncomfortable chair, a guest in the presence of power; it’s good to be careful.
In this case we’re the principal — one principal with seven heads. These people saw bad things happen in the hallway and we’re the ones who can do something about it. It’s an awful lot like high school. In fact, today I noticed on the first floor, just inside the Sheriff’s entrance (the preferred entrance for insiders) on the left is a trophy case. As near as I could tell, it was mostly softball league trophies, but there was a football prominently displayed with “19” marked on one side of the laces, “80” on the other side. Who was playing football? The cops against the criminals?
A trophy case in the county courthouse. That should have been my first clue that this would be like high school. (The seating chart would have been my second clue.) How did I miss it until now? I’m always rushing to get to my seat as Juror #6. Who wants to get a tardy?