The Veteran Defense

The tensest moment of any police encounter is the initial approach. You have no idea whether the suspect will fight, run or offer excuses. Although fighting and running place the officer at more risk, it is the endless excuses that often stick with me. Some are funny, some are pathetic and some are downright insulting. At the top of the list in the latter category is “I’m a veteran.”

Let me be clear, I am a veteran and my wife is a retired veteran. I have the utmost respect for military members and, when possible, I will give them a little bit more wiggle room when it comes to deciding what, if any, charges are necessary in a given situation. But, I find it disrespectful to active military, retirees and all who have served to have the first thing I hear from a suspect be “I’m a veteran” or “I was in (insert service branch here).”

Speeding TicketThe reasons I feel this way are rather simple. First, if you are still serving, it is probably obvious to any officer by your haircut, manner of dress, base access stickers and general demeanor. If the officer does not immediately pick up on your profession, you do not need to announce it; simply hand me your ID when I ask for it. Second, if you are a veteran you should be proud, but do not think that two years in the Army during the mid-seventies is going to get you a free pass 40 years later. Third, more often than not, the suspects who claim to be veterans have never served a day in their life and simply believe that by saying they did, it will gain them some extra consideration.

If you have an encounter and the officer believes you might be military, either through obvious signs or because you announced it, you should expect a few simple questions to follow depending on the reason for the encounter. An officer might ask for your MOS or rating, where you are stationed and how long you’ve served. Some of this is simple chit chat to keep things civil, some is an attempt by the knowledgeable officer to weed out the imposter or those who washed out and are claiming to be more than they really are. Believe it or not, we ask the same questions of those who claim to be “on the job” – i.e. a fellow police officer. Don’t take it personal.

Every officer has a certain amount of discretion when it comes to charges, with some obvious exceptions, and many are veterans themselves. This translates into many officers who are willing to use that discretion to help a service member or veteran when possible. But, you need to remember that discretion is similar to a favor and favors are earned, not guaranteed.  In my book, active members have already earned possible discretion for minor violations and most veterans have at least opened the door. However, if you exhibit a sense of entitlement or, even worse, add charges due to being disruptive or combative, you make it hard to grant any type of favor.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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5 thoughts on “The Veteran Defense

  1. Back in the day our superiors told us that if we ever got pulled over to hand our military I.D. To the officer…..hell, to this day my wife even asks me why I don’t do it. I honestly think it’s in poor taste to do so and it’s as if your asking for a freebie. While it’s nice that people acknowledge your service at times, that’s not why I joined up… to get preferential treatment. Just my .2

    1. IDAHO NOW HAS A VETERAN DESIGNATION ON THEIR DRIVER LICENSE. YOU HAVE TO PROVIDE A DD214 TO GET THE ENDORSEMENT SO I DON’T HAVE TO ANNOUNCE MY VETERAN STATUS. I’M PROUD OF MY VEITNAM SERVICE & AM GRATEFUL I DON’T HAVE TO ANNOUNCE IT. IT’S ALL ABOUT RESPECT-THOSE WHO EARNED IT DON’T HAVE TO FLAUNT IT.

  2. I’m with JLee – I didn’t join the military with the intent of receiving preferential treatment. If I’m doing something that is outside the confines of the law, I should be called out for it just like anyone else. That said, I have always stored my driver’s license under my military ID in my wallet (I use the military ID far more, so it’s first in the stack). By the time the officer walks up to your car, he/she has already run an abbreviated check on your plates and the person to whom those plates are registered, so they know if you have a valid driver’s license. I’ve been pulled over a handful of times in my 30 years of driving, and invariably, the officer notices the military ID (that I have to pull out first in order to get to my license) and asks to see that as well. The conversation ensues about our mutual military service, and I have been let go with verbal warnings. Was this because of my service, or because I didn’t act like a brazen idiot towards the cop? I wouldn’t be able to tell you, but I think it may be a little bit of both.

  3. I completely disagree I know for a fact that officers are taught to use extra scrutiny when stopping a Veterans because of the PTSD craze today and some officers who didn’t serve are tired of Veterans being treated like Princes.

    I know many officers who give everyone a fair shake based on the merits not based on the Neoclass Veteran status that has been created today. I know of many who are tired of the Veterans sense of entitlement that has been fueled by the Vietnam Veterans generation and has mutated into the OEF/OIF generation of Veterans.

    I commonly find these younger Veterans asking for their discount everywhere I go. I was taught never to ask for anything and that goes beyond merit and earning something; asking for your discount at the furniture store, Lumber Yard, or Restaurant. I am proud to say I have never asked for my discount and never will. People in general always identify me as a Marine w/o me even mentioning it and that is because of they way we are made……frankly some turn into a complete slob as soon as they hit their EAS date.

    With the animosity these days from the “passive aggressive” society we live in I am very hesitant to even admit I served in certain settings when I know I am in a “Progressive Democrat” community.

    I know Officers that have seen a trend in Neoclass Veterans attitude and are growing sick of it. It has become so second nature to them I don’t think they even recognize it.

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