The Forgotten Lawmen Part 2
The Forgotten Lawmen Part 2
It was midnight on a warm and muggy Sunday in August 1993. I had spent the better part of the day patrolling the Big Sioux River and Wall Lake. As I was driving back into the city on 41st Street, I noticed two cars weaving violently back and forth, each trying to side-swipe the other. I stopped the trailing vehicle at the intersection of 41st Street and Elmwood Avenue, where I quickly realized that I was dealing with four drunk male teens, all of whom screamed that the men in the other car had pointed a gun at them. Nice try.
A shouting match ensued between the driver and me. I was eventually able to get the driver out of the car and back to my vehicle using every verbal judo trick at my disposal. He displayed absolutely no fear and even less respect for the badge and uniform. The driver was drunk and wanted to fight. I knew a fluid forearm strike or brachial stun would appreciably alter his behavior, but I held back. I knew my place in the law enforcement food chain; I was a lowly state game warden who worked under the morale-crushing boot heels of the prickly and pretentious state politicians.
For mostly undeserved reasons, state game wardens live each day under intense political scrutiny. During my years of service, much of this scrutiny originated with several high-profile organizations representing the self-serving interests of wealthy, large-scale private landowners. These landowner groups were highly-visible, politically active and doggedly determined in their efforts to privatize the state's public wildlife resources, at least those species of game animals from which the landowners could make money. I don't recall them expressing any particular interest in owning skunks, venomous snakes or porcupines.
From these high-profile landowner groups, the political scrutiny of game wardens ran like a greyhound after a jackrabbit first into the state legislature. From the state legislature, the intense political scrutiny of game wardens ran straight and unfettered into the office of the governor.
With the exception of the late Honorable George S. Mickelson, each of the three governors I served under were openly hostile to game wardens. The most notable, in my opinion, was the short-sighted and short-statured Governor "Marion." This malignant hostility toward game wardens meant officers were expected to tolerate more bad behavior from combative criminals for no reason other than their job title.
The pressure got so bad that I began compromising my personal safety while on duty. For instance, I no longer used my high beams and cowl-mounted spotlight when I stopped a vehicle at night. I used only my low beams for fear the passengers would file a complaint accusing me of overreacting and making the poor souls feel like criminals, which they were, incidentally.
There were a handful of officers who basically gave up as a result of the unrelenting political pressure. They stopped performing proactive patrols almost entirely. The officers would still respond reactively to calls for service if the call originated from law enforcement, the regional office or the public. But that's because those particular calls were known to others and often required follow-up paperwork from the officer.
I didn't blame the officers for their "I don't care" attitude. It was a totally predictable survival response that developed as a result of the never-ending political and public floggings. And the favorite venue used by detractors to publicly humiliate an officer was the ubiquitous Letter to the Editor. I had two written about me during my career; both letters were full of distortions and unwarranted personal attacks.
The ability to complain about an officer increased in direct proportion to the growth in technology. Anyone capable of using a computer could now bypass the more traditional ways of lodging a complaint against an officer and send a complaint straight to the office of the