Good Cop Comes Through for Chicago Woman | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Good Cop Comes Through for Chicago Woman

A traffic stop in Dallas, Texas recently became national news. Officer Robert Powell pulled over an NFL player on his way to visiting his dying mother-in-law in the hospital. The interaction that followed recalls some of the worst stereotypes about police officers. But Chicago writer Mary Gustafson has a story about a dramatically different encounter with a cop.

Not that long ago on a Tuesday morning, I was driving to work full of dread. I was only about three and a half months into a promoted position, the transition had been rocky and I was up against a deadline. My new boss's impossible standards and sharp —often loud criticisms — often sent me hiding to the ladies room. To top it off, rumors of layoffs were running amok. Suffice to say, I had a lot on my mind.  And so, as I drove through the North Shore on Green Bay Road this particular morning, I blasted poppy, upbeat music to drown out my worries.

And it did the job, until something else happened. A squad car had been on my tail and I had been oblivious to the flashing lights and piercing siren. I had even paused long enough for a school bus to empty without noticing the car behind me. The police officer asked why I hadn't pulled over sooner. I didn't have a good answer, and it dawned on me that she probably thought I was trying to evade arrest. The honest answer was that I simply had not noticed — had not checked the rear-view mirror for miles. Nor the speedometer either, apparently. So that's what I told her.
Then, the impossible happened. She asked me if I was having problems, either with family, my boyfriend or work. “Or are you just having a really bad week?” She asked, in a truly sincere voice. I burst into tears and started rattling off the list.

Then, in that moment, peering through my driver's side window, she became my shrink. She dispensed the soundest advice I've ever received. She asked if I'd talked to the Human Resources personnel or taken my boss out for coffee.  She told me that from her experiences female bosses were tougher. To my astonishment she kept asking questions like what kind of toll is this was taking on me physically.

Struck by the unexpectedly pleasant nature of the situation, and out of gratitude, my tears continued and so did her advice. 

She suggested that I should consider making a career change, and that I might want to apply elsewhere; to pursue other things I enjoyed. But her immediate concern was helping me pull myself together. “Mary, you have to relax, and you have to stop crying. Calm down. It isn't safe to drive like this. When you get to work, don't tell your boss you got pulled over. Just say you were running behind. Just leave it at that and apologize. It will be OK.”
 In the time since our encounter I've been trying to figure out why Mary went so far above and beyond what she needed to do when she pulled me over. She very easily could've written me up, given me a quick, stern lecture and sent me on my way to traffic school.

In addition to being so useful, her advice turned out to be remarkably prescient. Two months later I was laid off from the very job she encouraged me to leave behind. And every day since then I've had to remind myself that everything will be OK. But I've also make a special effort now to pursue hobbies and interests like she suggested. All of this because of happenstance. Funny how things work.

Mary Gustafson is a writer in Chicago. She was stopped by Mary Sullivan, who for the past 18 years has served as a police officer for the village of Glencoe, Illinois.

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