I grew up with Sheriff Andy Taylor. And his trusty sidekick Deputy Barney Fife. If you’ve never seen the Andy Griffith Show, shame on you. It is an American classic about life in the small rural town of Mayberry, North Carolina. I would venture to say I’ve seen every episode (the black & white ones) at least four times each (syndicated reruns of course, because the show originally aired in the ’60s).
One of the things I loved about Sheriff Andy Taylor was his innate sense of right and wrong. While Barney Fife was out there trying to arrest jaywalkers and moonshiners and everyone else who broke a minor municipal code, Andy saw the big picture. Andy may have very well been justified to make arrests or detain citizens for investigation, but he was more concerned with what was right and decent. And when he suspected or observed actual criminal activity he took action.
As criminal defense lawyers in Fort Worth, Texas, we read police reports every single day. In many of the police reports we read, the officer’s actions are more akin to Barney Fife than Andy Taylor. I get the feeling that many officers have the mindset of “arrest everybody and let the DA sort it out.” When officers are called out on a family assault or domestic violence call, somebody is getting arrested. Period. The officers don’t try to deescalate the situation or truly figure out what the couple needs. They generally listen to the parties and arrest the one that has fewer injuries (regardless of which person may have called the police).
We’ve also seen numerous arrests of young people for committing youthful hijinks, such as trespassing on school property. Sheriff Taylor would have taken the kid home and made him tell his parents what he was doing. He wouldn’t arrest the kid. But officers in DFW are making arrests in these scenarios.
Of course, we only see the cases where there are arrests. There may indeed be officers out there that are getting it right. But, we still see too many arrests when something less would have achieved the right result. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not against law and order. We are champions of justice, and justice does not always mean arrest and prosecution. Perhaps the police academy training should begin with a rerun of The Andy Griffith Show. Personally, I recommend the episode where the cow thief was putting shoes on the cows.