Pulled Over by Po-Po; Cops On A Stop: Interfacing Positively With Police Is The Best Way To A Better Day
Do Not Ignore Those Lights
Most folks don’t like to be stopped by police, to be approached with suspicion by wary gun-toting uniformed strangers. It is unsettling, it causes delays in our schedule and, frankly, there is no guaranty of continuing on our way without a ticket, being arrested, or worse. The public pays for and expects police protection including vehicle stops for speeding, reckless driving, or probable cause in search of suspects related to some specific offence. Yes, I said protection because, despite instances when police stops go south, cops generally do what they do to investigate and determine if a citation or apprehension is warranted. Without protection, without criminals being aware of the police and of the penalties for criminal acts, everyday people would be victims much more often of carjackers, thieves, thugs, and gangs who revel in ruining everyone else’s day.
To imagine what society without police might be like think of any riot or arson-related incident where no one comes to the rescue. Firefighters are tasked with dousing fires and rescuing accident victims but police usually assist in securing the area for additional responders. Cops are often first-responders on-scene and they handle crowd control as well as avert further mayhem. In a near-perfect world police will ultimately apprehend the criminal culprit(s) for a more thorough investigation and, when called for, eventual prosecution. That’s what cops train for and what most of them aspire to in the performance of their duties. Police are vulnerable to the same foibles in human nature as anyone else including anger and the desire for justice, but evolving training methods constantly strive to temper feelings of conflict and rash behavior leaving officers with, hopefully, a steady and level-headed approach to horrible or frightening situations. However, no one is perfect.
When as a teenager I had just acquired my driver’s license, I began using my personal vehicle, a small pick-up truck, to continue delivering newspapers as I had done on a bike since I was 11. Adding a vehicular component allowed me to take on the coverage of an additional neighborhood located miles away from my initial paper route. Operating a car comes with expenses including insurance, fuel, and maintenance costs so, like any teenager, the additional route’s extra income was welcome and helpful. The importance of timely delivery was consistently emphasized; when the papers arrived late to me and I in turn got behind schedule I would often find customers waiting for their morning delivery so they could read the latest news with breakfast or, at least, prior to beginning their daily routines. Hustling through the route was just part of the job.
One morning I awoke late and scrambled to make up time. I passed my local convenience store at a pretty good clip on the way to work. A few blocks later I noticed headlights following behind me. I could recognize that it was not a police car and thought at first it was someone who recognized my truck as belonging to a paper delivery guy. Since I hadn’t yet loaded up that morning’s edition I didn’t bother to slow down or stop.
I arrived at work about 4:30 a.m. after the other delivery guys working out of the same location had already left on their routes. I was alone as the car following me pulled in right behind. I exited my truck and, once outside, heard the other car’s doors opening. In the glare of the headlights I made out two figures standing behind their open doors. Immediately, one of them yelled, “Place your hands on top of your truck and don’t move”. As my eyes adjusted I realized that each of them was pointing what appeared to be a gun at me. I didn’t know if this was a robbery attempt but there were no witnesses or anyone to help me so I immediately complied, hoping that was a safe response.
Hot Stop In Progress
I stood there and the two guys approached with guns in hand. I had by then realized that their car was a Camaro and that they weren’t just after the morning paper. One came up behind me to frisk me while the other remained back for cover. They eventually identified themselves as police and asked what I was doing, who I was, and why I’d been speeding. They advised me that they were on a plain-clothes stake-out near the 7-11 I had hurried past earlier and they had received a dispatch call advising them of a robbery that had just occurred at that store. The suspect was described as a white male, thin, with long-hair, and he had left on foot heading around the corner from the store. Of course, they noticed me tearing past immediately thereafter and thought I might be the perpetrator. Upon reflection, their idea made sense to me.
Once they had run my name and vehicle info through dispatch and received an all-clear, and they had themselves determined that I had keys to the garage in which the newspapers awaited my arrival, they stood down and holstered their weapons. Anyone who has ever had guns pointed at them in a dark alley would understand the tension in the moment. Ironically, I realized I had seen these guys a few times before when making deliveries to another convenience store in the area located next door to a donut shop where they occasionally hung out during periods of inactivity during their shift. And I was sure they recognized my delivery truck although they could not take for granted that I hadn’t finally decided to rob a store one morning just for some breakfast money.
A Big Barrel of Baditude
I do believe that if I had made any quick moves or failed to comply with their directives I would have ended up in the hospital or the morgue instead of on my delivery route. Looking back, I suppose, if I would have been Black or Latino the chances of my being shot might have been substantially higher. But I avoided that potential unpleasantness by following the officers’ instructions without adopting any negative attitude or threatening stance. Had I acted contrary to their instructions it could have become a very messy circumstance and the police taking me down might have been deemed justifiable.
Another time, many years later, I was in traffic court testifying as a witness on a case. When I was done I took a seat in the gallery to watch the remainder of the morning session, having an interest in the practical workings of the justice system. One person who had appeared before His Honor had failed to adequately establish why he should not be fined for illegal acts he was responsible for and, upon the judge’s ruling on the facts presented, was then dismissed with only a fine and reluctantly escorted back to his seat by the bailiff. He stewed in place for several minutes and finally approached the bailiff apparently to request one more opportunity to go before the judge, which was granted just prior to the lunch recess.
The Gavel: Mightier Than the Gun
That was not in itself a mistake but his demeanor, after allowing himself to become agitated over the previous ruling, was risky and entirely out of place. He began by stating that he didn’t believe that the judge had heard him properly the first time and he repeated the same facts but with a more insulting fervor. The judge listened, let the man finish his tirade, and then promptly brought down the gavel pronouncing a fine double that of what was earlier imposed as well as an immediate 6-month suspension of this fella’s driver’s license. As the guy stood there in complete surprise, the judge adjourned the session and rose to exit the courtroom and the bailiff was again left to escort this flabbergasted gentleman away. I was impressed that day with the certainty that it is never wise to belligerently question a judge’s authority, especially if you can’t back up your claims.
I mention these two accounts to explain my own perspective regarding the appropriate way to react to authority. Regardless of how upset I am at being engaged or scrutinized I understand that the best behavior involves swallowing my attitude and following directives in order to achieve the optimum outcome. However upset I am it does absolutely no good to be aggressively argumentative or careless enough to make gestures or statements that could be misconstrued as threatening or demeaning. This has much more to do with surviving the moment than with complaining or venting, either of which can wait until later.
1:50 A cold-hearted murder
2:27 Refusal to comply can signal trouble. Cops face this every day.
Patrol in a Pressure Cooker
Police are under pressure every time they pull someone over or make attempt a contact; they are already in a heightened state of awareness and have a real concern with ending their shift safely that day. They do not wish to harm anyone but they have learned through cruel experience that not all people can be trusted to employ good conduct. Many are too quick to declare “What? I didn’t do anything wrong!” before the officer even has a chance to state the reason for the contact. Others demand, “Do you know who I am?” or threaten “I’ll have your job!” These responses have no place in any police/citizen-contact scenario. Hostilities increase suspicion and unease and all involved become less comfortable more worried about their safety. Even professionals, frequently lawyers, tend to lack self-control or, worse, discard it on purpose choosing instead to not comport themselves as they would when presenting a case before a judge or jury.
1:10 Shots fired! Shots fired!
4:37 Watch as the drama unfolds
Given how relations have deteriorated between police and the general public some folks become angry at the mere approach of an officer. However, just because someone is upset with a hornets nest does not make smart the decision to attack it; obvious consequences for family and neighbors will certainly ensue. There are times when maintaining composure is necessary for survival. Being outgunned and outmanned is never the time for battle and may only multiply an already stressful encounter and the potential for a negative outcome.
When officers are treated with courtesy and respect, they are much more likely to respond in kind. Cops are friendlier when they believe their advisories will be heeded and mistakes will not be repeated. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being nice to people. The contact may still result in a ticket or a minor scolding but that beats going to jail, having to retain legal counsel for a court appearance, and the countless dark moods and sleepless nights spent worrying about the freedom to fraternize with family and friends in the future.