COLUMBIA, SC — January 4, 2022 — Turning the other cheek when you’re a police officer—even when denied service at a restaurant
In December 2021, three on-duty San Francisco police officers visited the Hilda and Jesse Restaurant to eat. After they were seated, the staff said they felt uncomfortable with the officers in the restaurant and asked them to leave. The officers didn’t make a scene and left.
This is not the first time police officers have been refused service at a restaurant or store, and sadly, it probably won’t be the last.
- In 2020, a bartender at a Las Vegas restaurant refused to serve two off-duty police officers.
- In 2018, a worker-owned coffee shop and self-proclaimed radical book store refused to serve a uniformed police officer because “police presence compromises our feeling of physical & emotional safety.”
- In 2016, a Virginia police officer was standing in line at a Noodles & Company when the cook came out from the back and told the cashier, “You better pull me off the line because I’m not serving that,” indicating the police officer.
In each of these instances, the officers left without creating a scene. While this was probably the best response at the time, it must have humiliated the police officers involved in the incident. All they had wanted to do was eat a meal, enjoy a drink, or purchase something from a local business. Instead, they got abuse from people who would probably be quick to call the police if someone was robbing the business. In fact, they would probably call the police if someone at a restaurant had treated them like they treated the police.
So, how should the police react if they are ever denied service?
The first thing is they have to keep their calm. These employees are expressing their feelings about the police. But suppose a police officer responds, expressing their feelings. In that case, it is likely that someone will be filming that response with a smartphone. Soon after, the world will be watching the officer’s out-of-context response on social media.
The police could and should complain to management about the problem. This will generally get results favorable toward the police unless management itself is anti-police. If management is agreeable or even fair, a discussion about what happened will resolve the issue. After all, most business owners don’t want to drive off customers. Although the officers should report the incident to management when it happens, it might be best to wait to discuss later when emotions aren’t so raw. Besides, leaving the incident site is the best way to keep it from escalating.
Once the officers leave the business, they should report the incident to their superiors and union. This gets their side of the story on the record early, and police unions have shown they are willing to make incidents public if they need to help their members.
However, first allow management to clean their own house, just as the police prefer to police themselves. Next, the officers should let the management know what they expect from a successful resolution. For example, minor incidents might only require an apology, while major events might result in firing employees. If management addresses the problem, then let it drop. Try not to make the situation public after the situation gets resolved. Doing so could damage the company’s reputation when it might only have been a few employees management fired. If the situation is already public, the police should praise the company’s response.
Even if the lousy employee gets fired, can the police ever be sure about how the employees at that business will treat them? Perhaps they won’t ever be denied service again, but who is to say the people preparing their food won’t do something to it. For instance, in 2016, an 18-year-old Subway employee in Utah was accused of putting methamphetamine and THC in a police sergeant’s lemonade. As a result, the sergeant missed at least three days of work while he recovered from the drug dosing.
The police have to spend their on-duty hours being vigilant. Now they have to do the same thing during their off-duty hours.
The safest solution where food and drink are concerned is that the police brown bag their lunches. While not fair, it is safe, although it does not stop other types of denials of service.
So far, companies, where these incidents have occurred have faced public backlash, even in very liberal cities like the San Francisco incident. That should be a warning to other employees that despite what they may think, the public at large will support the men and women who are trying to protect them.
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Michael A. Letts is a police chaplain and the CEO and Founder of In-VestUSA, a national grassroots non-profit organization helping hundreds of communities provide thousands of bulletproof vests for their police forces through educational, public relations, sponsorship, and fundraising programs.