I found myself in an interesting situation recently and am very curious how my take on it compares to yours. I already asked many people I know professionally and personally and the response is quite split. I’m trying not to be surprised, and I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.
Here it is:
I was on my way to work in the wee hours of the morning since I had been doing a lot of work on the morning show on Cleveland 19, that starts at 4:30 a.m. You know it…part of my routine is to drive thru a local 24-hour coffee shop and grab my quick fix. Of course, I’m always in a hurry, always running late which makes me a bit agitated.
After placing my order this particular morning, I turned the corner to the drive thru window to find a car in front of me—stopped. There’s usually never a car in front of me at this time of the morning, or night, whichever you might call it. On this day it happened to be a police cruiser. Sure, the officer needed his java jolt too, but why wasn’t he moving up to the window? What was distracting him? I tried to wait patiently—who wants to honk their horn at a cop? I could see though his windshield though – there was no car in front of him at the window, where he should have been.
Thirty seconds went by, which felt like ten minutes at that hour, not to mention I was in a “I don’t like anyone or anything until I get my coffee” mood. I could wait no longer – I pulled past him, trying not to look at him and flash an annoyed look (not advisable with a police officer when one has a history of being “challenged” with speed limits).
“Hi, Catherine,” my favorite coffee shop worker friend said as she handed out my “usual” as if nothing unusual was going on.
“Hi…what’s up with him?” I nodded my head toward the cruiser behind me.
“I don’t know!” she said, “he’s been there for ten minutes now, his order is sitting right here.”
Panic struck as I glanced into my rear-view mirror to see a man with his head flopped backwards and mouth wide open.
“Oh my goodness, something is wrong,” I said.
“It is?” she said “I can’t see him from here and I’m not allowed to go out there.”
I jumped out of my car with so many thoughts racing through my mind. Did he have a heart attack? Was he alive? Was he just asleep? If I startle him would he hit the gas or grab his gun?
As I cautiously approached the cruiser, I could see his driver’s side window was down, and he was still breathing. Phewww.
“Officer…” I said quietly.
“Officer,” I said more firmly.
His eyes opened, his head jerked up and he looked over at me with a range of emotions evolving over his face: shock, fear, embarrassment, gratitude, and finally, back to embarrassment. He was sleeping! Yes, somehow this man, this officer, sworn to protect us, was catching some “z’s” in his cruiser, engine still running, holding up the line at the drive thru.
“Are you ok, sir?” I asked, just to make sure he didn’t need help.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m ok,” he responded slowly as he maneuvered to sit upright.
“Ok,” I said relieved, trying to refrain from chuckling. As I walked back to my car I couldn’t resist looking back to catch one more glimpse of the sleepy-eyed, boyish looking man in blue, and blurted out jokingly “remember this next time you pull me over.”
He nodded politely and grinned. As I pulled off, it struck me just how lucky he was that it was someone like me who found him. Replaying it all in my head it’s easy to see how tempting it might be to someone to take a picture of “sleepy cop” to share with the cyber world to get a laugh and a load of social media attention, or at least, share with his boss.
I can’t imagine the occupational violations – you have to wonder if a criminal might have been able to get to the officer’s weapon while he was in dreamland. Also, the fact the car was running adds obvious potential danger. I don’t know if he simply had his foot on the brake or if the car was in park, I don’t recall if the brake lights were on or not. The evidence in one picture snapped and shared in a matter of seconds could have the power to turn that man’s life upside down. Not only might it have cost him his job, maybe his career altogether, but there’s the inevitable personal humiliation and who knows what that might have lead to?
When I asked a co-worker, “what would you have done?” without hesitation, and with full conviction, her response was “I would’ve taken a picture”
“You would’ve?” I asked curiously, struggling to be unbiased. “Why, why would you have done that?”
“He’s supposed to be protecting us, we pay him, someone would’ve taken a picture of me if they saw me sleeping on the job. What if something bad would’ve happened?”
“Would you have posted it online or social media?” I continued.
“Because he shouldn’t have been doing that. That was wrong and he shouldn’t get away with it.”
Others I talk to admit they would’ve taken a picture too, but aren’t so quick to say they would’ve posted or shared it. Instead the response was more like, “Hmmm, I would have to think about that.”
So, this is what’s it’s come to? We’ve hit that day when any of our mistakes, our bad decisions, our regrettable words, are fair game if they’re caught on camera? Knowing we screwed up is usually enough cause for remorse. Now, the stakes are so much higher with the potential for anything to go viral – mistakes that might have previously faded away now have the potential to escalate quickly with a single click.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” but think of what would be missing in a picture of the officer sleeping on duty, behind the wheel. It would offer no explanation of why he was so tired. Maybe he had serious problems at home that were costing him any real rest? Maybe he took the wrong kind of cold medicine or allergy medicine before his shift? Maybe it’s some other hardship? Or maybe, he’s just downright irresponsible and is sleeping off a hangover? The embarrassment on his face after I woke him was enough to know this was a person in a moment of weakness. No matter what led to it, a picture of it launched into cyberspace would be an instant indictment – an image that would be attached to his name forever, google-style.
Yes, this is a hypothetical case – it didn’t happen to him, but people do find themselves in real scenarios like this more often than you might think. There was a story on CBS Sunday Morning a few months ago about this issue – It featured the picture of man taking part in a white supremacist rally, but someone attached the wrong person’s name to that picture—to that man. Although, the man who it really was came forward to stake claim, “white supremacist” will always be attached, via google or whatever search engine you use, to that first man regardless of the “mistaken identity.” Awful, awful, awful.
Don’t be Tempted
Sure, it can be tempting to take a picture of that guy whose butt is halfway exposed as he changes his flat tire. It can be tempting to start recording on your cell phone when the mom in the grocery store is having a meltdown with her kid who just won’t stop misbehaving. It can be tempting to take a picture of the police officer sleeping on the job.
There are situations when cell phone video or pictures prove so beneficial – when capturing the right images at the right time might solve a crime, perhaps bring justice through the appropriate channels – that’s one thing. Images taken to bring someone to their knees, or to attract thousands of views online, is another.
With that, I ask what would you do?
PS: To the sleepy police officer, a heads-up, but also thank you for the topic for my first blog, and although I don’t really expect you to give me a pass next time I’m speed limit “challenged,” but I kind of think you owe me a coffee.