We attended services at First Reformed Church on a recent Sunday because members of the Schenectady Police Department had been invited to receive some recognition for their service to the community.
We wanted to be present to join in the salute to these officers who don’t often make headlines, who work hard every day without running afoul of the law they’re supposed to be upholding. The majority of the police force would fall under that category, despite the department’s unfortunate reputation as incorrigibly corrupt because of the misdeeds of a few.
Chief Mark Chaires was among those present, and we chatted briefly with him about how young the department’s recruits from the police academy look these days and about the reassuring presence of the officers who patrol in the Stockade Historic District where the church is located.
The role of law in our society was the common thread throughout the service, beginning with the children’s gathering to hear from the pastor before heading off to Sunday school.
The Rev. Dr. Bill Levering told the kids that when their parents warn them not to put beans up their noses they should understand that it is a rule that comes from love, no different from when they bar them from playing in traffic or doing other dangerous things that kids might like to do.
In his sermon later, Levering told about the time he was pulled over in Delaware for speeding – “just a little.” A Delaware state police officer ordered him out of his car and into the patrol car.
Levering said he was steamed and ready to chew out the cop for disrupting his day.
But, then he saw a teddy bear in the cop’s car, and it changed everything.
Can anyone stay angry when there’s a teddy bear in the mix?
Here, he said of the cop, was someone who clearly was loved or who loved somebody. He couldn’t be upset anymore.
Recognizing that the officer was perhaps a family man, someone with an affinity for a teddy bear for reasons unknown, altered his view of his own situation.
Like our parents who warn us about putting beans in our nose, this uniformed employee of the state of Delaware was keeping people safe by doing his job.
Isn’t that what police officers are supposed to do?
Levering suggested that people might view cops with more warmth if they wore panda costumes instead of uniforms. Or perhaps, he said, they could wear clerical collars when they’re trolling for speeders. That might help to get across the message that they’re acting in our best interest rather than in the perverse hope of making our lives miserable.
I got to thinking about the time I was rushing down the Northway on my way to work in the Albany area. I was late and speeding — just a little.
The flashing red light in my rear-view mirror filled me with a mixture of dismay and annoyance.
At the trooper’s direction, I got out of my car and into his.
“You know we don’t like to give people tickets, right?”
I said I didn’t know that at all.
“Well, we don’t,” he said firmly.
He went on to lecture me for five minutes or more as I kept trying to steal a look at my watch. I wanted to say “Give me the damn ticket and I’ll be on my way,” but realized that would be asking for even more trouble.
Eventually he gave me the summons, and I got back in my car a little wiser, driving the rest of the way to the office well within the speed limit.
I’ve always remembered his words about not liking to give people tickets. He might have added, “But, that’s what I must do when you break the law.”
I learned something in that brief encounter. Never again did I think of cops as out to get me or anyone else.
That message was reinforced by Bill Levering in his sermon at First Reformed. That and, of course, the one about never putting beans up your nose.
Irv Dean is the Gazette's city editor. Reach him by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.