The following quote from Maya Angelou is displayed very prominently above the interior of the Westport Connecticut Police Department front door:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The irony of the prominence of this quote as I left Westport Police Department this past Saturday was exquisite.
The irony starts with something very positive.
In mid-May, Detective James Baker III called my office to let me know that he held warrants for one of our clients, one of our people. He knew that there was a severe opioid dependency that impacted the young man’s former behavior. I advised Detective Baker that the young man had entered a long term inpatient treatment program and I asked for time to produce him to Westport Police.
Detective Baker was professional, and most importantly, he demonstrated compassion and a true sense of justice. He said that he wanted our client to be sober and safe and he wanted to give him a chance to acquire some fundamental skills in order to seek and maintain sobriety. I thanked Detective Baker.
Detective Baker from the Westport Police Department made me feel confident in him as a law enforcement officer. He made me feel respect and hope.
This past Saturday, I presented the same young man described above, to Westport Police for the warrants that had been signed by Detective Baker.
The young man is sober and healthy. He is working at two full time jobs.
Here’s where the irony about the Maya Angelou quote picks you up and tosses you backward a couple of car lengths.
During the nearly two hours while I waited for our client to be processed, every single officer who dealt not only with me but every person who entered the lobby area of Westport Police made people feel as though they were at best, an imposition. The behavior was alternatively curt and sometimes on the verge of hostile.
What a shame to make people feel that way. The officials’ behavior that I encountered on Saturday made me wonder whether the Maya Angelou quote above the front door was meant to be a guide to Town of Westport employees, charged with maintaining the peace and protecting citizens, or was it an instruction to the public to make sure that the public did something more or better to help Westport employees feel good about themselves.
I try to look at my own behavior to try to understand why things happen in the way that they do. It’s therefore important that everyone reading this piece knows that I asked permission from the faceless voice behind the glass at Westport Police Department to bring my dog, “Cash”, into the lobby area while I waited for my client. Some of you know “Cash” and know that he’s an obedient and mellow pup. Regardless, the faceless voice didn’t know that at the time. Maybe he hates dogs, or lawyers, or lawyers with dogs.
I told the faceless voice that I didn’t want to leave Cash in the car, although it was parked in the shade. When it was suggested that I could leave Cash in the car with the air conditioning running, I explained that I couldn’t lock the car if I did that. Note that I felt that a conversation about idling car engines and carbon emissions wouldn’t be helpful to my canine cause.
Permission was resentfully granted and punctuated with a yelled, “Whatever”, when I thanked the faceless voice behind the glass.
So, maybe it was all my fault and EVERYONE who was treated rudely or worse by multiple Westport employees that morning can blame me.
The good that came out of my Saturday morning at Westport Police is that the bitter behavior that I encountered made me grateful for the people who work with me at the Maddox Law Firm and their exceptional ability to make people feel cared-for and protected.
I also remarked to myself about the contrast between this Saturday morning’s experience and the consistent professional courtesy that I have encountered at other Fairfield County police departments such as Stamford, New Canaan, Greenwich and Darien Police.
The experience also reminded me of Detective James Baker III. I have to believe that he is teaching others in his department both explicitly and by example about how to treat people.
I understand that Detective Baker is a third generation Westport Police officer. They must be doing something right in the Baker family. It seems clear, at least, that they don’t need a quote above a door in order to know that their words and actions impact how people feel; both in the moment, and in how they think and feel about law enforcement.