There is a thin line between what most of us call normal and the dark, nasty part of society that normal people pretend doesn’t exist. That thin (blue) line is our country’s police officers. Today, they themselves are under attack by the evil that lurks just below the surface of our society. In just the past couple of weeks there have been horrible attacks on officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Other attacks, not deadly but just as demoralizing, continue in the media on a daily basis. And how do most people in our country respond? They don’t go on TV and pontificate. They rally around their local police officers and offer to protect and support them.

Local business owners come out in support of their local police and offer a cold bottle of water, a safe bathroom, or a place to cool down where an officer can relax his or her guard slightly. Restaurants offer free drinks and free or reduced-price meals. Other customers cover an officer’s check for him. That’s what the conscientious, law-abiding citizens who understand right and wrong do in this country.

Officers don’t seek out these offers or expect them; a grateful citizenry recognizes that officers are doing a job they do not want to do themselves. Officers walk into a restaurant expecting to pay full price, just like any other customer. In fact, most officers are probably a little embarrassed and, quite frankly, put in an ethical dilemma when offered a free or reduced-price meal. Ethics laws say that an officer should not accept that meal because the owner of the establishment could potentially expect an officer to provide extra or more favorable service.

Even if an officer tells the proprietor not to extend that offer, the owner usually says “my pleasure” and gives it anyway. The officer will probably pay whatever is asked because he or she does not want to create a scene or seem ungrateful. But, ultimately, the officer will have to say that he received a gift from a citizen or business owner if ever asked on the witness stand.

A piece of advice to a restaurant owner from an old police officer: don’t worry about offering a free meal. Offer a safe place where the officer can eat in peace. Offer a table in the back corner where the officer can sit with his back to the wall so he can see everyone coming and going. This makes him feel secure. Offer a smile and a handshake. Offer to donate a meal to a homeless person in the police department’s name. Offer a simple, “Thank you,” or prayer. Talk to them about “normal” things.

Do not ask about their thoughts, or give them yours, on the current state of affairs. Most officers are forbidden from discussing such things by their departments, so you may get deflected answers that make the officer seem cold and distant. Just engage them as you would any other customer who you want to keep coming back. The simpler the gesture, the better. These are humble men and women. They are coming to eat at your restaurant because they like it, so make them feel like family, not like a freeloader.

Of course this is just my two cents worth (and 25 years of experience)!

Capt. Shane D. Healey
Opelika, Alabama, Police Department


Robert A. Norton, Ph.D., is a professor at Auburn University and chair of the Auburn University Food Systems Institute’s Biosecurity and Food Defense Working Group. A long-time consultant to federal and state law enforcement agencies, the Department of Defense and industry, he specializes in intelligence analysis, weapons of mass destruction defense and national security. For more information on the topic or for more detailed discussions about specific security related needs, he can be reached at nortora@auburn.edu or by phone at (334) 844-7562