A.C. Snow

For this Durham police officer, the quality of mercy was not strained

A.C. Snow
A.C. Snow ehyman@newsobserver.com

Let quality of mercy be not strained.

I thought the news story should have been on the front page of the Old Reliable.

It had to do with Durham police officer Dan Strandh, who had pulled Courtney Bailey over for traffic violations. Not one but three!

Bailey said she was speeding, not wearing her seat belt and that her car registration had expired.

For some gung-ho cops, this would have been an “Eureka!” moment. Three citations to one offender would have been a good start on the day’s tally.

Asked why she hadn’t had the car inspected, Ms. Bailey explained that she was between jobs, very short of cash and that feeding and caring for her small son was her top priority.

“I have six cents and a dollar in my glove compartment,” she explained. Anyway, an almost treadless tire on the car would have failed inspection.

So what did the officer do? Present her with three citations, return to his patrol car and drive away? That would be the normal procedure.

But, unless I’m wrong, Officer Strandh isn’t your typical lawman. He drove Bailey to a tire shop, where he shelled out $200 to purchase a tire and have her car inspected.

“Not only did he pay out all that money for my car, but he also didn’t give me the three tickets that he owed me,” the grateful motorist said. “I didn’t know what to do but cry. I boo-hooed my face off!”

As I read the story of this compassionate cop, a couple of lines from Shakespeare came rushing to mind:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven.

What causes one officer’s quality of mercy to influence him to forgive three traffic violations while another is quick to whip out his ticket pad and start scribbling away? Only the officers themselves can answer that.

Some conjectures: a forgiving nature? The prevailing circumstances of the encounter? Personal prejudice? A toe-the-line adherence to the letter of the law? Some earlier-in-the-day encounter?

Some years ago, Atlanta Journal columnist Lewis Grizzard wrote about an incident that occurred at the Atlanta airport.

A pilot was backing a loaded plane out of its parking space prior to takeoff when suddenly the plane lurched forward, crashing the nose of the aircraft against the side of the terminal.

It was later learned that the pilot had had a horrific argument with his wife before leaving home and was venting his rage by ramming the terminal.

To the best of my memory, I have never received a traffic ticket. That’s not to say I haven’t deserved a number of them. I cite one particular night when I did.

While working on the Burlington newspaper, I had had dinner at the home of a couple. After a delightful evening, I headed home to my bachelor pad in the nearby town of Graham.

I was halfway there when I heard the dreaded whine of a police siren.

The officer informed me that I had been speeding. Furthermore, he noted that I was driving barefoot. When he asked to see my driver’s license, I reached for my wallet. No wallet.

Also, I was not wearing the glasses required while driving, a requirement he had confirmed when he had called headquarters.

He ordered me to lead him back to my friends’ home, where I found my wallet behind a sofa pillow.

I expected to be put under the jail. Instead, I was told to go and sin no more and to be careful not to step on a rusty nail while going barefoot.

On my first job, I covered the police beat. Often riding patrol with officers well into the night, I learned what their job and their lives were like. I came to know their likes and dislikes.

I learned that few things irritate a policeman more than a motorist’s attempt to pull rank, i.e., “Do you know who my father is?” or mentioning that you play golf with the mayor.

One night, I heard a cop reply with something like, “I don’t care if your father is the pope’s first cousin, or your mother-in-law is a pen pal of the Queen of England. You’re getting a ticket!”

The news item about Bailey’s encounter with Officer Strandh went viral on the internet. It will do more to improve police-public relations than a platoon of well-paid public relations experts.

In these days of anger and violence, when just a traffic stop can lead to deadly confrontations, a few well-placed gestures of “mercy” can go a long, long way.