What I learned this week…

I was pulled over this morning. The thing is, as soon as I saw the blues and reds coming up in the rear view, I basically knew what it was about. I’ve never entirely cured myself of the lead foot that’s afflicted me since dad first put me behind the wheel of a mid-1980s Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera when I was about twelve. I had a lot of horsepower and a wide open road and, well, one thing led to another.

My point is, I didn’t get pulled over because this particular trooper felt like being a jerk this morning. The guy was doing his job and just happened to be sitting somewhere where he got a good look at me being stupid.

Once we pulled off to the side of the road, I waited patiently, kept my hands visible on the steering wheel, didn’t fidget or reach around for things, and waited for him to come up alongside. I produced my registration, insurance, and driver’s license – while narrating what I was doing and where I was reaching; left rear pocket for wallet, glovebox for everything else.

Directly behind my driver’s license in my wallet is the license that the state of Maryland requires me to hold to purchase handguns. He obviously saw it. The trooper asked if I had any guns in the vehicle. No, sir. Hands back to a very visible place on the wheel. OK.

I sat quietly for about five minutes, waiting for someone, somewhere to report back that I have no current points, no history of violations, and I’m not sitting on a stack of warrants.

Once we confirmed all that, I was handed back my documentation, issued a warning, and told to be safely on my way.

Every word that passed between me and this particular trooper was civil and professional. I didn’t feel any compulsion to give the guy a hard time or make an already dangerous job more difficult. I didn’t want to make a point or try to capture the whole thing with my phone.

We were sitting there on the side of a two lane country road because I gave him a reason to put me there.

So what did I learn this week? Nothing new, just a good solid reminder that if you act like you’ve got half a brain in your damned head, accept that you too can be in the wrong, and don’t antagonize the officer who’s just trying to get through his day, an engagement with the police doesn’t need to result with rolling around in the ditch getting your dumb ass shot.

The talk…

Many years ago on the day I got my driver’s license my father sat me down and offered a few last minute words of instruction. It had nothing at all to do with the rules of the road, but instead the unwritten rules that apply when being pulled over by the police. You see, even though I’m white and he was a cop, those rules, however unwritten, applied to us too. Frankly, anything that might help mitigate the potential for being accidentally shot for being a non-compliant douchebag during a traffic stop is welcome information as far as I’m concerned.

The advice I got wasn’t anything earth shattering. Wait quietly with your hands on the steering wheel while the officer approaches the vehicle. Follow his or her instructions precisely and answer questions respectfully. Don’t make any sudden movements and don’t get out of the vehicle unless told to do so. For the most part, what he was telling his teenager was not to get stupid and cocky with the cop whose main concern is making sure he gets to go home to his own family that night. Put another way, it’s always best to remember that the life you save may be your own and try to behave accordingly.

See, as far as I can tell, having “the talk” with your kids about how to interact effectively with the police – or with anyone else for that matter – doesn’t make you a saint or a martyr. It makes you a normal parent looking out for the best interest of your kids. It’s just the responsible thing to do.