A cop once told me: “I like being in a business where the customer is always wrong.”

But knowing the customer is wrong and proving it are often two different things…

***

One of my law enforcement pals from Arkansas is in game and fish enforcement. Ken told me a summertime tale the last time I saw him, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Every lawman’s dream is to catch a crook who has eluded him for a long time. When he does, he remembers Jackie Gleason’s tagline: “How sweet it is…”

After playing cat and mouse with a particular illegal fisherman for years, and always coming away with empty claws, Ken finally nabbed him.

“The man is a habitual wildlife violator, and they’re one of the hardest types to catch. That’s the sort you hear from the public on, and the longer he remains uncaught the more you hear. He’s the type who haunts you,” Ken said.

Years of successful illegal fishing steadily moved him toward the top of Ken’s “List.”

The List, of course, is that collection of knuckleheads and angle-cutters every lawman has; that herd of ne’er-do-wells who constantly break the law but never get caught.

When a lawman checks one off that list, it’s an especially sweet pinch.

Ken had a worthy opponent. The fisherman was young, unemployed and lived within walking distance of the river he fished from. He followed no regular routine that could be predicted.

As a result, the man could fish anytime he wanted. A crook with a regular job gives a law enforcement officer a break. A job limits the time a person can get into mischief and hence reduces the time he has to be watched.

Ken staked out the man ‘s illegal wire nets for years, hoping to catch the man at them. When Ken told me the tale, he had paid his dues; he’d been a game and fish officer for 13 years and had been after that guy for half that time.

Ken sat up to 14 hours some days, hiding back in the bush, watching, waiting. He put up with hot weather and mosquitoes big enough to show up on radar. There are more enjoyable ways to pass the time.

Playing the waiting game, and doing the groundwork to build a bulletproof case are sides of law enforcement most people don’t see. People see the cop on the beat, or the wildlife officer checking hunting and fishing licenses.

Some people think that’s all they do. When people hear of an arrest, few stop to think that some cases are like icebergs -- 90 percent of the situation is out of sight.

Ken eventually built his case from the ground -- er, the water -- up, and it was strong. Ken cited the man for being overlimit, as well as using illegal nets. Result: the fisherman forfeited a goodly sized municipal appearance bond.

The conviction lightened the man’s wallet and changed his tune.

Ken recalled, “He used to brag that he had been fishing illegally for 10 years and never got caught. I’ve heard that now he’s saying it took us 10 years to catch him.”

The man may have changed his tune, but he hasn’t closed the opera.

He told Ken, “You and I both know this won’t be the last time.”

Ken agrees. He thinks he’s curing symptoms instead of solving problems.

“You don’t break a habitual violator of the habit of breaking the law. You just make them wiser,” he said.

Before long, in a new time and place, the man will likely be back to his old tricks. Ken believes the man is motivated by not only beating the lawman, but making some money as well. The man is likely doing some under the table merchandizing -- selling the illegally caught fish rough dressed to pick up some weekly cash.

Sad to say, sometimes crime pays even after the crook gets caught. One pinch every six years against weekly tax free cash isn’t a bad deal.

“He knew we were trying to catch him. He haunted me for years -- knowing he was fishing illegally and I couldn’t catch him at it.

“Now every time he picks up a net, I hope he’ll be wondering if I’m watching him, and how much it could cost him.

“Now, it’s my turn to haunt him.”

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