Especially in South Carolina. Yes, the link goes to the sad video of a man shot and injured by a former Trooper Of The Year and now former trooper, in the opening moves of a routine traffic stop over not wearing a seat belt.* The state policeman is now facing felony charges.
They fill young cops up with cautionary tales -- real-life cautionary tales. They make them understand the stakes while skimming over the odds, and then this happens.
What nobody does is give getting-stopped lessons to those of us who don't wear badges. If Officer Friendly is your friend, why wouldn't you park your car and get out, empty-handed, to greet him as an equal?
Yeah, no. Officer Friendly may live just down the block but on duty, he's the sharp pointy end of the State (or County or City) and he's been told a hundred times about the LEO one state over who stopped a hopped-up bank robber for a burned-out taillight and stopped a bullet for his troubles. His heart is pounding and he's got not just a gun but a whole bat-belt of violence, and a radio linked to the full weight of lots more where that came from; behind that, a bulldog prosecutor and judges and juries inclined to listen harder when a cop talks. You're not meeting as equals, no matter how much both of you might wish it. There's tremendous tension on your interface and nobody is more aware of it than that solitary officer walking up to your car.
Sometimes things break under tension. J. Random Peaceful Citizen -- you and me, or at least me -- is the most fragile component in this transaction.
I hate knuckling under. I loathe having to bend the knee. --I like getting shot even less. One of the best ways to increase the tension in a traffic stop is to proactively get out of your car. Sure, in the right circumstance, it can seem like a natural thing to do, but it's a really bad idea. Another bad idea: making any but the slightest motion without checking with the policeman who stopped you.
The guy that got shot did both. Does that make the shooting his fault? I don't think so. The South Carolina State Police and the local prosecutor don't seem to think so, either. J. Random Citizen doesn't encounter the police very often; he or she does dumb things. That's normal. Officers are supposed to deal with it appropriately.
Not all of them do. Stay in your car. Shut off the engine. Keep you hands in plain sight and stop fidgeting. I'm not saying open the window wide, nor volunteer for a search. Indeed, there's a point where, "Am I free to go?" becomes an appropriate question -- but understand you're facing not only a person (as fallible as yourself) but a system. Don't provoke it needlessly. Don't get out of your car unless told to do so. (Where do you stop complying? I don't know. Ask your lawyer.)
(What's the percentage of shootings like this vs. the percentage of policemen shot during what should have been routine traffic stops? Here's a hint: this made the national news. "Trooper Shot In Traffic Stop" rarely gets past the state or regional borders. And for every one of the latter, how many stops that happen without a hitch? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Aim to be one of those. Don't like cops? Then lend your efforts to Cop Block, share the locations of speed traps, record it when you see police doing dodgy stuff; a traffic ticket isn't a real good time to be pushing back.)
"Never get out of the boat." Or at least not while the policeman is walking up to ask for your license and registration.
* In Indiana, you cannot (AFAIK) get pulled over on the sole offense of not wearing a seat belt. Now, if you have a light out, don't signal, go even a little over the limit, then they can pull you over and add "failure to wear a seat belt" to your other offenses. So this stop wouldn't even have been a stop.
6 months ago