Far be it from me, who has spent the better part of three decades working as a police officer, to encourage anyone to take up a life of crime. But for anyone already disposed toward such a life, a golden opportunity briefly presented itself in the rural burg of Wellford, South Carolina. Mind you, this is no insult to the police officers of Wellford, all of whom I’m sure are dedicated public servants doing their absolute best to protect the town’s 2,000 inhabitants and their hard-earned property.
But a police force, whether in a city as large as Los Angeles or as small as Wellford, is after all an arm of the local political structure, and the evidence would lead the prudent observer to conclude that the political structure of Wellford, S.C., is on less than solid ground. The good people of Wellford, it would seem, have gone and elected a lunatic as mayor.
Strong language, you say. And indeed it is, but I have the evidence to back it up, courtesy of WSPA television, the CBS affiliate serving Spartanburg County, S.C. On September 18, WSPA reporter Chris Cato went to Wellford to speak with Mayor Sallie Peake, who had issued a directive to the effect that Wellford’s police officers should not engage in foot pursuits, as they often result in injuries to officers and an increase in the cash-strapped town’s workmen’s compensation premiums. A description of the interview would never come within a mile of doing it justice; watch it for yourself here, and see if you don’t agree that you have just beheld what may be Mother Nature’s last word in madness. One must wonder about the deficiencies in the rest of the field in the municipal election that thrust Ms. Peake into the mayor’s chair. One also suspects that Mr. Cato, directly upon leaving the mayor’s office, went to some local watering hole and pondered his choice of career over some strong drink.
But then again, perhaps not. The story was picked up by CNN, among others, and I’m sure Mr. Cato has received tributes from his peers in the news business across the land and maybe even an up-market job offer for maintaining his composure under what must have been the most trying of circumstances. And while the publicity may have been a boon for Mr. Cato’s career, it couldn’t have done much good for the honest citizens of Wellford. Imagine knowing that a police officer can witness you committing a crime, and as long as you stay out of his arm’s reach — or, once within it, you manage to wrest yourself free — you can fairly well make your getaway at your leisure, as the officer is forbidden, by order of the town’s crackpot mayor, from breaking a sweat in coming after you. The streets of Wellford must soon have been clogged with brigands of every stripe descending from all across the Southeast to pick up and carry away anything that couldn’t be nailed down, locked away, or guarded at the point of a gun.
Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and last week Mayor Peake was persuaded, over her objections, to rescind the no-chase policy after local prosecutor Trey Gowdy wrote to South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster to ask if the policy violated police officers’ obligation to uphold the law. The reversal prompted reporter Cato, in an act of uncommon intrepidity, to make a follow-up visit to Mayor Peake’s office, and in this second interview the mayor seems sane only in comparison to the impression she made in the first.
As comical as Mayor Peake may seem, she represents a point of view not uncommon among politicians, many of whom find the more dangerous aspects of police work distasteful. There are even those in law enforcement, generally found behind a desk rather than at the wheel of a squad car, who would sooner see a criminal escape than risk the potential liability inherent to chasing him. One thing I’ve learned in my police career is that crime flourishes where it’s tolerated, and there is no better demonstration of tolerance than when a police officer fails to pursue a lawbreaker. Mayor Peake, her apparent mental defects aside, has demonstrated a tolerance for crime that the citizens of Wellford should find disconcerting.