My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

The Police

There are, these days, a lot of heat and light surrounding several police departments in particular and, thanks to intellectual giants like Colin Kaepernick, police (and society) in general.  Now, there is no denying that some police departments have systemic problems.  It happens and it is the job of the municipal leaders or, in rare cases the Department of Justice, to figure out why it is happening and how to deal with it.  Are there bad cops?  Damn right there are bad cops.  There are also bad politicians, football players, baseball players, IT people, Doctors, etc, etc, etc.  Just bad people.  Mainly because, well, people are people.  

However, the difference is that 99.9% of police departments actively work to weed out the lousy cops because society expects it and good cops don't want to have to deal with it anymore than you or I would in our workplace.  When you add in that the lousy cop also has a gun, things can get complicated.  Mostly the weeding out process works.  If you decide today that you want to be an Officer on the street, it will be a year – think about that – a year before you are anywhere near ready to do that.  If at any point during that process the Department thinks you aren't for them, you're gone.

Complicated is an apt word to use to describe police work.  Everything about the job is complicated and the sum total of the tools that an individual officer has to deal with a complicated sea of humanity are their wits, and whatever they have with them.  They don't have a psychologist, a doctor, a dentist, social worker and a counselor all riding along in their car.  They've got whatever is in their skull and some comrades on the force to help deal with it and you can pretty much guarantee that when the police have an interaction with someone, it's among the worst days in that persons' life.  Something has gone horribly wrong.  It's complicated.

Let me tell you a story about complicated: not long after I was first elected there was a lawsuit fimanassas-city-police-departmentled against the City for what the media calls "Police brutality" but the courts call "excessive force".  In this scenario there was a domestic assault call – the woman was being beaten by her boyfriend.  Somehow, after the police arrived, the woman who called for help emerged with a broken limb.  I was seriously pissed off.  An excessive force complaint against the police in "My City" in which our police offerers broke a womans arm?  Not on my watch baby.  We need to clean this mess up and fast.  I asked for an immediate Council briefing from the Chief of Police and he was happy to oblige.

Now, you don't get to be Chief by not being able to deal with the ding-dongs in elected office.  The Chief started that meeting by indicating that everyone needed to listen very carefully first and ask questions second.  The facts painted a different picture: the guy doing the beating was a wanted violent felon and the female – who had called for help – had attacked the responding officers resulting in a big wrestling match which is how her arm was damaged.

I remember thinking that those facts painted a different picture than what I came into the meeting with and therein lies the truth behind policing.  It's complicated and it does not fit into 90 second news segments very cleanly.  Why on earth would she attack those officers?  I certainly wouldn't have expected it but it evidently happens with some regularity.  In addition, Officers are people too.  Engaging people who are enraged, under the influence or armed can be frightening.  Even if you're experienced.  Police are people too – they want to go home at the end of their workday too.  It's a damn difficult job that includes the making of split-second, life or death decisions that can go horribly, horribly wrong…..but way more often than not, they go right and the situation gets resolved.  You don't hear about those episodes.  Yes, it is human to focus on those situations where things have really just fallen apart but that ain't most times and folks need to recognize that.

I guess the moral of the story is that society needs to be prepared to stand behind their first-responders knowing, in advance, that they're human too and occasionally things will go wrong.  We need them, warts an all.  To not do this, to not back our police, creates a wider gulf between the Officers and the people they protect.  Our Chief of Police, Doug Keen, aptly summed the situation: "The Police are the guardians of our community and understand that our communities support us….It would be easy for us to take the "warrior" mindset and begin treating people as such.  But, the Police remember that as guardians we are protecting, preserving and respecting all lives."  That's powerful and it speaks to the crux of the matter: the men and women of the Police Force need your individual support and, indeed, our collective support and it is the only way to make the institution succesful.  Does it mean that we don't hold them accountable? No.  But it does mean that we recognize and give them the benfit of the doubt and our solid support along the way.  Remember, only "We" can do this.  We don't "buy" security from our Officers.  They are members of society who offer to guard the rest of us and "we" always need to keep that in mind.

Thank goodness for the great folks on our police force.

Nags Head Trip

It's not a great picture but there is no denying it's the beach.  It's Nags Head.  I've been coning here off and on since I was in diapers!  My family went every year from shortly after I was born to about the time I was 22.  It's been off and on since then.  It's funny, when we first started coming here the only place to buy much of anything was at RV Cahoons General store.  A longer trip would get you to Ben Franklin hardware store.  Travellers Inn had soft serve ice cream….Jeanettes Pier had tons of video games and that was about it.  Seriously, when Travellers closed they all but rolled up the sidewalks.


Things have changed quite a bit since then.  Travellers Inn isn't called that anymore and they don't sell ice cream.  Jeanettes Pier is now some grand monument to piers in the Outer Banks – Gone are the video games.  

You know, Fishing Piers are an interesting microcosm of the unique place that are the Outer Banks.  When I was a kid, they all had "the house" at the beginning of the pier where they had bathrooms, sold tackle and maybe beer.  Some had video games.  Some had a narrow building on either side of the parking lot that served as a sort of motel.  Each room was only slightly larger than the beat up bed that each room housed.  Whether or not there was anything illicit going on in those little rooms I don't know but I do know that these were past times for the folks that lived close by the ocean.  All it cost was the fee to fish on the pier.  You could stay out there all day.

Oddly, the Piers were able to accommodate some mixing between locals and increasingly common vacationers – it's a cheap distraction, people like to fish and the Piers tossed in some video games as a cheap way to merchandise spare space.  Kids could play games if they got tired of fishing.  Jeanettes Pier went big with the video games.  There were just enough games (and girls) at Jeanettes that we would undertake the walk.  Maybe a mile and a half?  Couldn't wait to get there and burn up a pocket-full of quarters.

The Pier that I spent the most time on was the Outer Banks Pier.  There were 3 video games there back in the day.  The coolest of which was a submarine game.  The regulars really didn't care about the new people as long as they didn't interfere with the fishing.  Last week I stopped by this Pier and it's an interesting snapshot of how incremental change continues.  Yes, the same old "House" is at the beginning of the Pier.  The giant sliding screen door.  The tackle shop (I wonder if they ever actually sell any of those fishing poles?) is still there with a different Old Salt behind the counter.  However, on the ocean side of the Pier House they've built a bar!  It has 30 micro brews on draft.  It isn't the kind of place a jeans-with-untucked-dress-shirt-guy from Reston would be comfortable in but a guy from Manassas could knock one back with a local there. I'm glad to see that bit of evolution.

Indeed, most of the change is for the better – there new houses are nicer than the older houses and some great stores.  The Harris-Teeter there is among the best I've seen.  However, I do wish there was less traffic on the Beach road.  The most popular parts of the Outer Banks – from milepost 1 to about 18 are actually governed by three separate localities and they just can't seem to get the infrastructure thing together.  Some places have nice wide walking paths that are always packed and some have barely a shoulder with no sidewalk at all!  People would never tolerate that here…however, overall it's still a great family-friendly place to vacation.  

Sadly, cycling on the Outer banks is still very dangerous.  Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk are just very dangerous places to cycle.  It isn't the out of town drivers as much as it is the locals and even the folks driving the local government vehicles.  They really don't give a crap about ped and bike traffic.  Recall I was almost killed by a trash truck in Kitty Hawk.  Being a local government guy (at the time), I emailed the local governments to pass along that information that a driver in their employ almost killed me and then left the scene.  The response from both Kitty Hawk and Nags Head reminded of the the movie "Jaws" when it becomes clear that there is a giant shark eating vacationers.  Recall the Mayor of Amity asked Dustin Hoffman if he "had a tooth" from the shark.  They couldn't get rid of me fast enough.  Had the same experience this morning.  A local public works truck passed me close enough I could have grabbed the mirror for a nice assist.  Dangerous to ride in the OBX….anyway

The other thing that has changed is that the houses have become Huge.  It's funny, back in the day, we stayed in a thousand square foot cracker box with no A/C.  I don't remember any hardships from those days – how hot it was when we went to bed or any of that.  I remember all the fun stuff my family did.  Fishing, renting little john boats with outboards, crabbing, sitting on the beach.  My Dad calling into work to solve some important problem from an actual phone booth (our cottages had no phones or tv).  He was in that thing for half an hour in the blazing sun and was drenched in sweat!  Nowadays if a house doesn't fit like 12 people, have wifi and a pool it isn't worth considering…:)  

And that's another thing (you kids get the hell off my lawn!!) what's with the pools at the beach?  At the beach?!?!  When I was a kid very few houses had pools but now many do.  A 12 year old me would have gotten a good belly laugh out of the notion that you needed a pool at the beach.  A 50 year old me still finds it curious but I'll admit it was nice….but I still make it to the beach just so I can say I did it…..

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