I had a matter to take up with the Fairhope police yesterday. Not threatening, but serious -- something I'd as soon gone my whole life without having to do. I know the police chief from a situation of several years ago and I knew what to expect: respect, competence, and maybe even a little action in my favor.
It all took me back to the police force of Fairhope in the 1950's. There were two cops and a chief, as I recall. Ellis Newell, father of my friends Jack and Jerry, was one of the cops. He was a gentle man with innocent blue eyes and a sweet smile. Everybody said he looked too nice ever to arrest anybody. It was kind of a Mayberry situation, with Mickey Johnson as the chief, a nice, redheaded guy pretty much admired by everybody. Who that other officer was I don't recall; maybe a reader will remember and post a comment here.
That it all blew apart when Johnson was found with a garden full of marijuana in his possession is water under the bridge, I suppose. The community was stunned, and I still don't know exactly what happened, except that he paid his debt to society and ended up in a city in the north of the county, working on the police force.
Today's police force is a bunch of brawny guys. The man who helped me fill out a complaint form was conciliatory and kind -- easily 6'3" and 250 lbs. -- blonde, and probably about 40 years old. In short, exactly what you want your local cop to be. He may be the one who stopped me for speeding 15 years ago when I was in a hurry to get from Fairhope to Point Clear for a theatre rehearsal and was doing 65 on that straight road. He reminded me that the limit was 35, and let me off with a warning.
Living in Switzerland, I learned that the most efficient communities have an almost invisible police force, constantly reining people in and keeping the peace by issuing warnings. Almost everything is against the law in Switzerland, and the way it is handled is by a severe, "We'll let you off this time, but I must tell you that this is against the law." I've experienced some of that in Fairhope, and, for the most part, I'm comfortable with it.
Because, after all, if you obey the law, you are safe and protected. You hope.