Rather than pass judgement on the recent shooting of Philando Castile by law enforcement personnel, I want to address the situation from an educational perspective. Specifically, I want to talk about how to act and interact in routine dealings with police. Now, I’m not a cop, so I will be addressing this from a somewhat outside perspective, but I think it’s an accurate perspective.
One of the most common instances of interaction with police while armed is probably the routine traffic stop. Now, for you, it might be anything from annoying to terrifying, depending on your driving experience and disposition. To the cop, however, every traffic stop is an unknown with life threatening potential. What you need to understand about this is that once you are contacted by police in an official capacity, whether in your car or on the street, they are ultimately in control of the situation. They have guns, radios, backup, and perhaps even air support, along with the full weight of the law behind them when enforcing their decisions. They must sort and filter an enormous amount of information in a short amount of time. They may be a veteran with years of experience on the street, or they may be a rookie fresh from the academy. If you want to survive this potentially hostile environment unscathed, be polite, be professional, and calmly cooperate, no matter what you think is right. Your opinion doesn’t matter at the moment of the interaction. What matters is the officer’s perception of you and your actions. If they’re in the wrong, let your lawyer sort it out later instead of sorting it out immediately at gunpoint.
The way I have handled traffic stops in the past is to pull over in a safe spot as soon as it’s safe to do so, turn off the radio, and just sit with my hands on the wheel. Depending on environmental conditions, it may be a good idea to activate your hazard lights and turn on the interior light. I’ll roll down whichever window is appropriate to speak to the officer. When the officer approaches, I am calm and polite. When they ask for ID, I will hand them both my license and my carry permit, saying that “You may also want to see this.” To date, the response has always been a “thank you” and instructions to sit tight. I’ve heard stories of people being disarmed or pulled out vehicles before being sent on their way, but whatever the officer feels is necessary to ensure their safety, I would suggest polite compliance. Now, if you’re in a state that does not require you to notify law enforcement when you are armed, then do whatever you feel is appropriate. Whatever you do, be calm, polite, and follow instructions.
If you are carrying a weapon, and if you are ever searched by police, it’s probably best to tell them what they’re going to find before they find it. Surprise is rarely a good thing to introduce into such a scenario. Unless you’re planning on either dying or living out the rest of your days like Jason Bourne, let your lawyer sort it out later!
No matter what situation brings you into contact with the police, realize that at that moment, it is your responsibility to be the calm eye of the storm and act accordingly. If they point a gun at you, be calm and follow instructions. If you wind up prone on the ground, searched, and placed in the back of a cruiser, be calm and follow instructions. If they take you back to the station, be calm and follow instructions. Let your lawyer sort it out later!
Almost every contentious police shooting that I can think of, had the subject complied instead of resisting, they probably wouldn’t have been shot! Whether you look at the recent events that took place in MO, NY, MD, or LA, had the subjects NOT been resisting arrest, then they probably would be alive today.
Looking at this from a slightly different perspective, as a paramedic, I occasionally am tasked with taking someone to the hospital against their will. Typically, this will only happen when the person has a psychiatric or behavioral crisis and law enforcement has requested a physician emergency commital. (While individual state statutes vary, a bit is trivia is that 5150 is the California code. If you’re a Van Halen fan, you can ponder that and draw your own conclusions!) These people are often intoxicated and/or suicidal and/or homicidal. The level of restraints we employ range from simple verbal coaching to physical and chemical restraint. The level of restraint is really up to the patient… I’m going to do whatever is necessary to protect myself, my partner, and my patient. If that means a calm conversation on the way to the hospital, awesome! If it means 4-point restraints and a “B52” chemical cocktail injection (5.0 mg Haldol and 2.0 mg Ativan, plus Benadryl) with a law enforcement escort to the hospital, we can do that too. It really is up to the patient. We are going to employ the least amount of restraint necessary to ensure safety. Similarly, most cops are going to employ the least amount of force necessary. Fight them, and you’re eventually going to lose. Ultimately, I would suggest that living your life in a manner that avoids such confrontations is the best course of action.
The corollary here is that if you act and look like a criminal, expect to get treated like one. Act and look like a good guy and you can hope for discretion and courtesy from the cops. Of course, this is by no means meant as a defense for corrupt cops, for certainly they exist. As well, mistakes of judgement happen, however tragic they may be.
In my mind, the jury is still out in the shooting of Philando Castile… If the cop made a mistake, hopefully he is not above the law and ultimately, history will judge his actions. If Philando Castile made a mistake, then let us learn from it, for he has already paid with his life.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for a future article on this subject from an actual cop!
(P.S. – In light of the recent Dallas Police tragedy that unfolded as I was writing this last night, the above advice is perhaps more pertinent than ever before. To the cops out there, check six and remain vigilant. We appreciate your service and we’ve got your back. – John)