A superb letter to the editor appeared in the Washington Post on Friday, July 22, 2016. It is so good it merits being quoted: If stopped by the police:
“. . . my sole thought would be to come out of the stop alive. I would roll all the windows down, turn on the interior light if the stop was at night and put both hands either on the wheel or out the window. I would be as non-aggressive as possible, plead my case and if ordered out of the car, comply. If I end up at the police station, so be it, as the problem would be solved eventually and the officers and I would be alive.
An inconvenience to be sure, but the results are what are truly important.”
This is the same advice and positive attitude about being arrested found in “A Toast to Silence“, and to which I would add a few refinements based on the recent increase in shootings by and at the police, leaving everyone more on edge.
As the shooting in Minnesota illustrates, even reaching for your wallet to get out your driver’s license can be dangerous if you first advise the officer you are armed. Most people do not carry firearms on their person, or in their cars. Those that do should also have out and plainly visible to the officer their driving credentials — license, registration, and insurance card so that they don’t have to move their hands off the top of the steering wheel. They definitely should not be collecting those documents as the officer approaches. He doesn’t know you’re not reaching for a weapon as you move about, reaching for these items. When asked for these items, tell the officers where the credentials are and that you are not moving your hands off the wheel. Then ask the officer how he/she wants to proceed and then comply; exactly and slowly.
If you are not armed, you should tell the officer immediately upon his arrival at your driver’s door that you have no weapons, then wait for their instruction, keeping your hands motionless on top of the steering wheel.
In the current police encounter climate every driver should have their credentials affixed to the sun visor with a rubber band so that any hand movement to get them for the officer is minimal and plainly visible to the officer, telling him or her where your credential are.
Rather than plead your case to the officer I would plead ignorance to the familiar question, “Do you know why I stopped you?” Reply with “I have no idea.”, or “I do not.”, or “No Sir/Ma’am.” If the officer gives you a break, it will more likely be from your show of concern for his safety by following the above advice. His first concern is his safety and he should, even if he doesn’t say so, appreciate your conduct and words which show your concern as well. Pleading your case should be done to a judge; rarely will you talk an officer out of a ticket.
Finally, the author of this letter should be praised for his correct assessment of the unimportance of being arrested as urged in “A Toast to Silence“, relative to the importance of surviving the police encounter. Fear of arrest only results in poor thinking, poor decision making, and too much talking when dealing with a police officer.