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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Does Free Lunch Exist For Law Enforcement?

The Tamba Tribune - Hernando Today- by KYLE MARTIN - November 9, 2008

Not that long ago, it was common practice for a neighborhood to take care of the police officer walking their streets. The local grocery helped out with staples, the diner a hot meal, the cafe a cup of Joe. But while a surging population has made the beat cop an endangered species, the gratuity tradition is alive and well. Advocates say it's the right thing to do for public servants who put their lives on the line every day. Critics argue that it's tantamount to bribery and places an unspoken obligation on the officer to let certain things slip - speeding tickets, for instance. A quick poll of the fast food restaurants on State Road 50 in the area of Mariner Boulevard showed that most managers offer discounted food and beverages to uniformed law enforcement. At Chik-fil-A, the offer extends to firefighters and service men and women, too. "Mostly it's for their service to our community," said Bill Abitz, manager. Across the street at McDonald's, a meal and a drink are always on the house for deputies. General Manager Liz Miller said she appreciates the "free security."

Most deputies drop by while doing monthly traffic control in the area. Quarter-pounders and salads are the most popular entrees, Miller said. Anecdotally, there is evidence to support both sides of the argument. In Las Vegas, a sports bar owner earned a reputation as a "cop bar" by offering free lunches to uniformed officers. On Dec. 5, 1999, three armed robbers burst into the bar while it was jammed with off-duty cops enjoying a concert. A firefight ensued and one of the suspects was killed. But one of the drawbacks of discounted food is that it breeds a sense of entitlement, said Tim Dees, a retired officer and editor-in-chief of "They believe that this is my due" because of the uniform, Dees said. Over this summer, there were two instances of officers abusing their free coffee privileges, both times at Starbucks. A Chicago police veteran was reportedly suspended for 18 months after she flashed her badge and gun to intimidate employees into giving her coffee.

Closer to home, a lieutenant in Daytona Beach was stopping by six times per shift to gulp down a Frappuccino. When a new manager challenged him, the lieutenant reportedly replied that he had control over whether cops would show up in three minutes or 15 to an emergency. The lieutenant was fired after the manager complained to authorities. Extreme examples, but Dees and others say accepting gratuities can be the first step on a "slippery slope" toward corruption for some officers. Somewhere in between the extremes is the best solution, Detective Joseph Petrocelli writes for While there shouldn't be police protection rackets, neither should an officer be prevented from taking a brownie after changing a flat tire, Petrocelli writes. "... Rather than the zero tolerance policy that is in effect in many places, a reasonable policy of tolerance that recognizes and respects the integrity and good judgment of law enforcement officers is probably the better way," Petrocelli writes.

At the Brooksville Police Department, policy states that officers cannot solicit or accept any gift - including food or beverages - if it's believed that the giver's intent is to affect performance or nonperformance by an officer. But if there's no implied quid pro quo, Police Chief George Turner doesn't have a problem with his officers accepting drinks or food. Turner couldn't explain how officers know when strings are attached, but he added that cops go to places where they feel comfortable. "I can't say police officers don't appreciate that," he said. It's expressly forbidden by policy for police officers to ask for a handout, which mirrors the policy at the sheriff's office. But while the sheriff's policy forbids deputies to "solicit" free food or drink, it doesn't say anything about accepting free food. Sgt. Donna Black, spokeswoman, said the department stands by its policy and that any complaints would be investigated. When asked to elaborate on whether deputies were allowed to accept food, Black replied, "We're not going to 'what if it.'"Reporter Kyle Martin can be reached at 352-544-5271 or

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