“Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King.
A law-abiding, tax-paying citizen relayed his frustration to me about a junior officer who exercised his positional leadership with the Laguna Beach Police Department ahead of all decent common sense last weekend.
It’s hard for me to grasp why someone walking out of the show “Lagunatics” would be forced to sit on a curb for 30 minutes for jaywalking. My friend is over 50, can’t hear well, and certainly can’t hear the squawking of a police officer, who would rather sit in his car and bark orders than engage the public. I don’t understand how embarrassing good citizens benefits our community.
The local police officer probably thought it made a lot of sense to make a well-known Laguna Beach citizen sit on the curb for a street-crossing infraction in front of friends, family and others who were downtown to attend a popular community theater event. I have to think that even Barney Fife would understand how small towns work better than that.
In the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all get along?”
I have at few friends who work for the Laguna Beach Police Department, but the number of those who live in town diminishes every year. No one knows each other anymore. It seems like the officers who do live here have a radically different level of respect for local citizens than those who don’t.
There isn’t enough space in this column to list all of my negative experiences with parking enforcement officers, but a few of the lowlights include being threatened with a moving violation while trying to park, and being screamed at for picking up elderly friends in a “no parking” zone. If it wasn’t so personal, it would be funny.
A good friend of mine is a global expert in law enforcement. Bert Wijbenga, formerly the deputy chief of police of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, is the current police chief of Flevoland, with roughly the same number of sworn officers in his unit for a province of 329,000 people as the 10,000-strong Los Angeles Police Department, which serves 3.8 million people. European countries do not organize police forces on such a small scale as a small town the way we do in the U.S. Laguna Beach has 47 sworn officers.
Wijbenga has a PhD in political science and an executive MBA in police administration. I’ll paraphrase his perspective on small-town police in America: They don’t have the resources to train their staff properly.
I had asked Bert why Laguna seems to have had some significant shortcomings in terms of law enforcement: We couldn’t stop a rash of bank robberies, but could shoot up neighborhoods with police bullets (45 rounds within 15 feet missed the bank robber but did manage to hit the local gym, security guard’s car and a bystander); but a local officer could (and did) block in and issue a ticket to my wife, who had stopped to pick up our children at the Brooks Street stairs, and was loading their gear in the car. What is, and isn’t, going on here?
What Bert told me is that, in the Netherlands, police spend roughly four years training before working on the streets. Much of their training is in learning to engage people socially to get the desired result. It’s not about positional leadership—“I’m a cop with gun.” It’s about respecting the people in your local community, educating them about local laws and persuading them to cooperate. He said that if they have to go to their gun, they’ve failed.
Two summers ago my wife, boys and extended family were on a tour of the Netherlands during the FIFA World Cup. The Dutch were doing very well and there were late nights with raucous celebrating and what seemed like the entire country in the streets. The police weren’t angry. They weren’t sitting in their cars barking incomprehensible orders at civilian subordinates. They were laughing with partiers, celebrating the success of Dutch soccer and helping people keep the law as they made their way home.
We need local police and citizens to respect each other better. Maybe there is an opportunity to partner with a Dutch sister city and develop some new local rules of engagement.
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected].