In my wild and reckless youth I had something of a lead foot. Sometimes I still do. That foot has given me ample opportunity to interact with local, state, and federal police officers in various parts of the country. In all of those parts I had the decided advantage of knowing that I was being pulled over by the police and that the person walking up next to my vehicle to ask for my license and registration was a cop. The cop by contrast didn’t have a clue who I was or how I was going to behave under the circumstances.
Because I never wanted to do anything that might surprise the person standing a few feet away from me with a gun on their hip, I follow the same basic procedure every time I get pulled over:
1) Pull over as soon as it’s safe and practical. Put the car in park. Roll down the window. Turn off the engine.
2) Place both hands back on the steering wheel. Don’t reach for anything. Not my wallet. Not my registration. Not whatever it was I dropped on the floor when the blue lights surprised me.
3. Wait for the officer to tell me what to do. That one is hard for some people. They’re impatient like that.
4. Narrate what I’m about to do (i.e. I’m going to reach behind me with my left hand to get my wallet from my back pocket).
5. When I’m finished with all that, my hands go right back to the steering wheel and I wait for further instruction. The goal is no surprises.
Seventy-five percent of the time, I drive away with a warning. Even when I get more than a warning, that’s not the time to get loud and hostile. The cop caught me doing something stupid. Not his fault. See, when I do something stupid it’s my fault because that was a decision I made. Being responsible for your own actions isn’t something that only applies when the outcome breaks in your favor. You’re responsible for your own actions, both good and ill. Own them all.
Although I won’t give consent to search my vehicle for any reason, what I never do when faced with the long arm of the law, is resist. If he wants to pull me out of the car, that’s fine. If he wants to sit me on the curb, that’s fine. If he wants to lock me up, that’s fine too. Even if I’m in the right and I know it, that’s not the time to try making my point. In that moment, on the side of the road, even if he’s picking the fight, I know I’m going to lose if it gets beyond the conversation stage. That means it’s my job not to let it go beyond that point, even if it means temporarily swallowing a little bit of pride. I try very hard to avoid putting myself into that kind of no-win situation.
When all is said and done, if I don’t feel I’ve been given my due, I have a whole host of administrative and legal options available with which to seek redress for my grievances. I am more than happy to avail myself of those options as needed and as dictated by the circumstances. Escalating the situation to the point where there’s even a temptation for the officer to draw down on you is just plain stupid when there’s a whole universe of alternatives.
Some people might say that’s not very compassionate. Personally, I find compassion a little hard to come by when so many damages are self-inflicted for want of a little common sense and personal responsibility.
Not a sermon, just a thought.