Friday, June 11, 2010

Norfolk Cop: "Don't give me SH*T!!!"

“Don't come over here and give me SHIT for riding on the sidewalk!”

So said Officer Rogers of the Norfolk Police Department, standing astride his bicycle on the sidewalk of Plume Street in downtown Norfolk during the opening hours of Harborfest 2010.

I was riding my bike home on Plume Street (with traffic, in the street), a little after six o'clock, when I saw Officer Rogers and Officer “Blank” riding the opposite direction on the sidewalk (the nametag was missing from the velcro strip on Officer Blank's uniform).

I looked behind me and made a u-turn on my bike as Officers Rogers & Blank stopped on their bikes, too. I pulled up in a driveway to a construction site, and asked Officer Blank as he started to ride around me,

“What in the performance of your duties requires you to ride on the sidewalk right now?”


“Why do you feel the need to ride on the sidewalk right now?”

“Because I can ride on the sidewalk.”

“I understand that you're legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk, just as you have the legal authority to drive through a red light when you are in your cruiser. But you don't drive through red lights unless required. So what part of your duties right now requires you to ride on the sidewalk?”

“Well, I'm patrolling.”

At this point, Officer Rogers rode over on his bike, looking rather agitated. Officer Blank looked like he had been hitting the donuts: a chunky guy, over 35% body fat. Officer Rogers was shorter and leaner: the bantam weight boxer to Officer Blank's linebacker. Officer Rogers joined in the conversation,

“Let me ask you something: what do you do for a living?”

“I'm a photographer,” I replied,

“Do I come around and give you SHIT while you're taking pictures of flowers? NO! So don't come come over here and give me SHIT for riding my bike on the sidewalk!”

“I'm not asking you not to ride on the sidewalk, I'm asking you what in the performance of your duties compels you to ride on the sidewalk. See, you're setting a bad example: there are thousands of people downtown for Harborfest. You're riding on the sidewalk. People see cops riding on the sidewalk, and they think it's OK. In fact it's illegal in Norfolk, and it's four hundred percent more dangerous than riding in the street, with traffic!”

At this point, Officer Blank chimed in, “Well we're cops because we like danger: maybe that's why we ride on the sidewalk.”

Officer Rogers went back on the attack, “Have you ever taken a PHOTOGRAPH of a dead police officer?”

“Actually, yes, I have,” I replied, stretching the truth only slightly: from firsthand, forensic photography I know the punchline to the joke, “What do you call a guy floating in the ocean with no arms and no legs?” Answer: “A naval aviator.” (I spent some time photographing in the morgue of the Portsmouth Navy Hospital, and Navy pilots are the cops of the ocean skies.)

“Don't you have anything better to do?” Officer Rogers continued,

“I think it's quite important for our police to model good, law-abiding behavior: you don't run red lights just because you can. You run them when you need to. You shouldn't ride on the sidewalk, just because you can.”

“And you rode your bike over here ON THE SIDEWALK to tell us that?”

“Actually, officer, I'm not on the sidewalk,” I observed, looking down at the curb cut and parking lot driveway where I was standing, astride my bike.”

Officer Rogers was furiously quiet for a few moments as he realized that I was, indeed, in compliance with the Norfolk city code. Then he gathered himself up and presented the best justification yet,

“We are patrolling the downtown area and keeping citizens safe. For that reason, we are riding on the sidewalk.”

I think Officer Rogers knew that it was a lame excuse, but strong enough to stand up, should his Sergeant inquire. And I look forward to hearing from the Norfolk Police Department as to their guidelines for officers exercising their legal permission under Section 23-398 of the Norfolk Municipal Code to operate bicycle on the sidewalk:

“Because I can,” is not a sufficient reason.