I submitted my report explaining exactly the details
of the incident to include my disposal of the
needles.  My sergeant reviewed and signed the
report without comment; however, it was a different
story when the lieutenant reviewed the report.  
Both I and my sergeant got a verbal slap down over
my deviation from established procedure.

I know what you're thinking, "What's the big deal?"  
After all, a bio-hazard container is a bio-hazard
container.  What difference does it make where the
container is located?  Well, here's the big deal that
has nothing to do with needles and disposal.  It's all
about established policy and procedures.  What
that lieutenant was communicating to me was this...
"Whenever you get the urge to ‘think out of the
box,' be prepared for the stress that may follow."  

When you become a police officer, you'll be dealing
with departmental policies and procedures every
day.  While you may disagree with the way some
are designed or implemented, it will never be up to
you to alter those policies and procedures.  If you
join a police department where supervision,
management, and command are well in tune with all
the written policies and procedures, you'll have a
pretty stress free existence.  Your supervisors will
keep you on a short lease, and they won't let your
thinking out of the box think you into trouble.

You'll soon learn that a lot of people think out of
the box all the time.  Some simply don't know the
rules while others think they know everything better
than anyone else.  Police officers aren't immune
from this form of ignorance and self importance.  
Unfortunately, the countless television shows and
movies about cops show cops breaking the rules all
the time to get the job done.  While the movies
frequently portray the stress created by these
masters of thinking out of the box, it's find for
entertainment, because stress = drama.  In real
police work, stress simply equals stress.

When done on a grand scale, thinking out of the
box often results in unintended consequences.  In
May of 2008,  faculty members from El Camino High
School in Oceanside, California, and at least one
California Highway Patrol officer, gave an even
newer meaning to thinking out of the box.  The
faculty members and the officer devised a hoax;
wherein, highway patrol officers visited 20
classrooms on a Monday morning to inform
students that a number of their classmates had
been killed in drunk driving accidents over the
weekend.  The reports are unclear as to how many
police officers were involved in the hoax.  It doesn't
really matter, because one police officer is one too
many.  The hoax was part of a program to
the seriousness of driving while drunk – yea, talk
stress.  The idea was to let the students stew
in their emotional stress created by the news –
hours, before the hoax would be revealed at an
assembly later in the day.  
Of course, some students became so emotionally
distraught that they had to be told immediately that
the news was not real.  It's not surprising that the
creators of this sad act kept it going to its
conclusion.  The faculty members and the police
officer who devised this idiocy defended their
stupidity with the usual caveat, "Though the
deception left some teens temporarily confused and
angry, if it makes even one student think twice
before getting behind the wheel of a car while
intoxicated, it is worth the price," said the California
Highway Patrol Officer who orchestrated the
program.  I wonder how this police officer would
have responded if one of those "temporarily
confused and angry" students, not that stable to
begin with, had taken a walk off the roof of the

While it's impossible to know if this stunt had any
positive effect regarding drunk driving with even
one student, it's a certainty that the credibility of
California Highway Patrol officers, or any police
officer for that matter, was destroyed in the minds
of those El Camino High School students.  

As I said earlier, you'll be fortunate to work in a
police department where your leaders understand
the importance of organizational continuity and
keeping everybody on the same page.  However, if
you join a police department where thinking out of
the box is a favored activity among those who lead,
you could be subjected to a lot of stress not of
your making.  Such police departments definitely do
exist where people in positions of supervision,
management and command essentially make up
rules as they go along while ignoring previously
written policy directives and procedures.  If you find
yourself working in such a confused and stressful
environment, you must simply adhere to written
directives and procedures and statute law where

Never confuse initiative with thinking out of the
box.  One has nothing to do with the other.  As a
police officer, you'll be making decisions and acting
on those decisions all the time.  Your initiative is
simply a timely means of applying a solution to any
situation or circumstance in the best interest of
public safety.  Don't forget that the "Box" is
synonymous with "Organization" wherein lies the
guidance and support for the decisions you make
and the actions you take.  
Out of the Box
When you hear a person use the phrase, "thinking
out of the box," take a very hard look at that
person.  Most of the time, when a person utters
that phrase, that person is using it to justify an act
already undertaken or completed which deviates
from, or violates, an established way of doing
things.  If you're fortunate enough to join a police
department that's really at the top of its game, it's
going to have a well developed organizational
structure designed to deal with just about any
situation or circumstance.  Now, you say, "Ah... just
about anything doesn't cover everything."  While
this is true, you'll experience few, if any, situations
and circumstances that are not addressed, to some
degree, in a well organized police department.

I once received a call to a vacant lot for suspicious
activity.  When I arrived, I found no people, but I
did find over fifty hypodermic needles spread across
the ground in a two foot circumference.  All the
needles looked to be new; however, some had the
needle covers removed.  I had plastic bags in my
car, but I looked around the littered lot for a more
secure container where I found an empty coffee
can.  I put on a latex glove, and I very carefully
picked up the needles, one by one, and dropped
them into the can.  I placed the can of needles in
the trunk of my car and headed off to dispose of
the needles.

Here's where I deviated from established
procedure.  The department had a written directive
for this very circumstance.  I was to take the
needles to the Evidence Control Unit which
maintained a large container specifically designed
for the collection and storage of hypodermic needles
prior to proper disposal.  While the Evidence
Control Unit was located all the way downtown,
there was a hospital emergency room only a few
minutes away from my location.  I entered the
emergency room where a nurse took me to a
bio-hazard container where I dumped the needles.
"You'll soon learn that a lot of people think out
of the box all the time.  Some simply don't
know the rules while others think they know
everything better than anyone else."
~ Barry M. Baker
Copyright © 2019  Barry M. Baker