Earning a Badge Requires Embracing Public Service
Laguna Beach Mayor Toni Iseman addressed a group of Wesley District residents on the night of Sept. 20. She shared a proposal regarding restrictions on motorcycle noise on Coast Highway. She then advised us the problem would be enforcement because, “I happen to know that our police officers don’t like pulling over motorcycles because they would rather pull over little old school teachers (as she gestured to herself) in their cars because that is easier.”
There were three retired police officers in the room. I was one of them. I spontaneously replied, “That’s not true.” Behind me one of the other police officers said the same. Mayor Iseman put her hand up towards us in a gesture to stop, looked elsewhere in the room and continued. None of us persisted. It seemed not the place. Perhaps this is.
The mayor’s comment came up in our neighborhood the next day. Several residents acknowledged that she was once a school teacher and is probably why she referred to herself. And that perhaps she once received a ticket? I don’t know.
What I do know is that first responders, police officers and fire fighters do not have the time or luxury to address our critics. Especially another public servant. It goes against our law enforcement code of ethics. It can also be construed as under color of authority if there is any semblance that we are speaking as a public officer. Minimally it is considered unethical and unprofessional. We would be disciplined.
That night Ms. Iseman began her talk by reminding all of us that as mayor she has the “bully pulpit” and intends to use it to speak on our behalf. Mayor, you used your platform to speak flippantly of our police officers and eluded to them as lazy. It was a reckless statement, true or false. And it was false.
Factually speaking, Laguna Beach officers have shared with me that motorcycle excessive noise and exhaust have been an emphasis of their attention.
My opinion is from a career of law enforcement in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. That included the honor of being assigned to the training division three times, as a deputy, sergeant and lieutenant. Between street assignments, I always gravitated back to training because it is what molds the future of law enforcement. And I can assure you that California police officers, specifically Orange County police officers, are the best in the nation.
I was fortunate to retire in the assignment of the Orange County Regional Training Academy commander. I can pledge to you, with confidence, that the required six month academy to become a California police officer weeds out any “lazy” recruits. To the contrary, they are trained daily that law enforcement is a career of service to others. Those who do not grasp that concept do not graduate.
Toni Iseman is entitled to express her opinion. But Mayor Iseman we believe should be more prudent in a public forum when speaking about our city police department. Police officers are not perfect. But we police ourselves. Besides self-discipline, the peer discipline is constant. And at times unforgiving. I’d like to believe the same can be said of our city civilian leadership.
The next day, Thursday, Sept. 21, I watched with sadness and reverence as the Laguna Beach Police Department color guard folded the flag of remembrance for Officer Gordon French. And for Officer Jon Coutchie, commemorating the anniversary of his EOW, (End of Watch), when he was killed in the line of duty, selflessly serving our city. I also saw Laguna Beach police officers I had the privilege of having an active role in their training several years ago. One has an on-duty injury, temporarily preventing him from working on the street. He told me he is determined to return as quickly as physically possible. It reminded me why we can all sleep peacefully every night.
May we all have appreciation for those who serve in public service. But may we also have a special gratitude in our hearts for those who stand watch, 24/7, between us and our worst fears. And whenever possible, a word of thanks or even a simple nod of recognition can be all it takes to help them make it to the end of that sometimes thankless shift.
Laguna Beach resident Jeff Bardzik is a former Marine captain and retired sheriff’s lieutenant. He is active with AmVets, church, the ocean and his family.