By Steve Pomper
I once had a confrontation with a persnickety woman at a coffee shop. I’d parked my patrol car in an admittedly unauthorized parking spot (a wide concrete buffer between the sidewalk and the road). Apparently, she took offense and needed to make sure I had just a bit more unpleasantness in my day.
After all, my license plates do read “exempt.” It’s an emergency vehicle. And while getting a cup of coffee may not be an emergency—then again, it may be—a true emergency call can arise at any time. The fire department often uses this same “parking spot” for the same reason—but those folks are heroes, so….
Anyway, I parked and walked into the store to grab a cup-o-Joe and sit and chat with another officer. When I sat down, a woman at the next table raised her eyebrows, cocked her head, pursed her thin lips, and in a pedantic tone said, “Officer, your police car is illegally parked.” Endeavoring not to respond with a similar sarcasm, I politely told her there were no legal parking spaces on the block. She said, “Well, it’s just not right. I can’t park there.”
I agreed; she does have to park legally. But I chose to attack the issue from another angle: education about why cops do what they do. I told her at any moment I could get dispatched to a 911call. For example, a frantic person could call to report a suspect could be trying to break down his or her door. Maybe her mother. Then I asked her, if that suspect were about to kick in her mother’s door, would she rather my car is “illegally” parked 20 feet away or legally parked a block away?
I could tell she’d never examined the issue from a public safety perspective. She preferred to take offense at something she knew little about. How a cop does the job. She didn’t come off as mean, just—nitpicky—for no real reason except to challenge a cop.
My point is these pedants, nitpickers who exist to make life miserable for people there to help them, are all too common. During the CCP virus pandemic, you see these busybodies in people who “mask-shame” unmasked people for not being as “virtuous” as they are. Well, there was a recent example of this pedantry in Schenectady, New York, where nitpickers turned a kind gesture into a civic kerfuffle.
Seems it was City Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildsunas’ birthday. So, with social distancing in mind, her daughter arranged to have a small parade drive past her house to honor the occasion. Included in the procession were a fire engine and two police cars.
When former mayor Albert P. Jurczynski heard the sirens and horns he went outside to see what was going on. He asked a bystander about the commotion and that person told him it was “Karen’s birthday.” According to the Times-Union, Jurczynski said, “the use of police cars and a fire truck didn’t sit well with him as a city taxpayer.” Once again, a lack of understanding of or benefit of the doubt for public safety surfaces.
Described as an elected official for 20 years, the ex-mayor should have known better. Jurczynski said, “he pays ‘super high’ property taxes… and that was not a productive use of city resources.” Now, on paper, and by making certain assumptions, that may sound reasonable. However, once you dissect the facts, his complaint seems, again, nitpicky.
Here’s why. Reportedly, you can see Zalewski-Wildsunas in a video of the event standing in “her driveway laughing and enjoying herself as the cars passed by with some stopping quickly to personally wish her happy birthday.” She also noted something obvious, or that should have been obvious when she said, “it’s a great way for police and firefighters to stay in touch with the community.”
Aside from the positive community relations emanating from this kind gesture, it came at no cost to the taxpayers. Just because fire and police personnel and vehicles are taking part in an informal “parade” doesn’t mean those firefighters and cops are out of service.
In fact, in this case, Police Chief Eric Clifford gave permission for a supervisor and the district officer to take part if they were not on a call. They remained in service for the entire duration of the parade.
Fire Chief Ray Senecal also allowed his personnel to participate as long as they remained in service. Chief Senecal said, “during the pandemic, we’re going to try to bring as much positivity to the community as we can.” The fire chief added, “It just so happened that they (fire crew) were fortunate enough to not get called away, it was an in-service engine.”
Whether officers are driving the patrol cars down a street on patrol, the fire engine is at the firehouse, or they’re driving past a city employees house, makes no difference. If they get an emergency call, they respond from wherever they are. I often participated in community events based on availability and call volume. It’s good public relations and you stay in service should an emergency arise.
Oh, and remember back to when I mentioned the police cars and fire engine remaining “in service for the entire duration of the parade?” Chief Senecal said, “It took all of maybe five minutes, at most.”
The fire chief explained, “the officers started at the intersection… drove up Londonderry and around the cul-de-sac, and they resumed their work duties. I didn’t look at it as a waste of resources… it is a way of trying to stay normal during these circumstances.” That route was 0.26 miles—I checked. That’s about the equivalent one lap around a high school track.
Chief Clifford said his department had participated in around 10 parades for the “school district and about 10 for birthdays or an event for children and senior citizens.” So, if not for occurring in a nitpicky former mayor’s neighborhood, this thoughtful gesture seems routine for public safety in Schenectady.
Hey, fusspots. Maybe you folks could give it a rest for five minutes. Stop criticizing the cops for every little thing they do—even if only trying to bring a smile to one city employee’s life, on her birthday, during a worldwide pandemic.