DennisBeaverJune 18, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver

“Mr. Beaver, we are worried about our 19-year-old son, ‘John.’ He drives like a maniac, has been pulled over by the local police several times, but they always give him a warning because I am well known in town. Instead of being appreciative, John argues with the offices and is disrespectful. If he acts like this somewhere else, things will not end well.

“We all read your column and John likes the way you are so straightforward. He might listen to your advice, so would you do a column on how to avoid getting yourself on the evening news when stopped by a police officer.”

“Police officers, just like anyone else working a job, want their days to be as easy and non-confrontational as possible,” Officer Harold Jones of the Winchester, Kentucky, police department told You and the Law. With a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and having been a police officer for 20 years, he is typical of the dedicated people in law enforcement we have met over the years.

“We want to make our community a better and safer place for everyone. That’s why we get into this field. We would absolutely love for there to be zero crime, zero domestic violence, zero drugs, zero theft, zero child abuse. No one in law enforcement wants those things to happen and we do not seek out confrontational situations. We don’t wake up wanting to toss you in jail,” he stressed.

Any lawyer will tell you that in almost every instance of contact an officer has with someone is a result of something that person did to draw the officer’s attention or something that created a call and law enforcement was dispatched. The law requires a reasonable basis–a good faith underlying reason. In addition to traffic stops, this might include:

  • Thinking you are having trouble and need assistance
  • Checking out a citizen’s compliant of criminal activity
  • Looking for possible witnesses
  • Stop – Listen – Obey

“In any encounter with law enforcement, regardless of prior negative experiences, this is not the time to work out past feelings,” Jones underscores. “Give the officer the benefit of doubt that there is a valid reason to talk with you and to explain why you have been stopped. The more a person resists in allowing the officer to do his job, the worse the situation will become.”

Risk and being in a permanent state of alertness goes with the job of being a cop. The most self-defeating thing we can do is to be a jerk, making that officer’s job more difficult. “Stop. Listen, Obey, are the Golden Rules for all civilians to follow,” Jones points out with good reason.

“Whether you are on foot, in a car, on your phone, or whatever you feel is important at the time, anything but stopping and giving your full attention to the officer will turn things south quickly. This also means stop moving!

“If you stick your hands in your pocket, turn your body in another direction, look around everywhere but at the officer, these are strong indications that you may be planning to do something other than cooperate and allow the officer to complete his investigation.

“If you don’t listen, there will most definitely be some miss-communication which is always bad for everyone involved. However, listening does not just mean being present without saying anything. Active listening requires trying to comprehend what the officer is saying so that a reasonable communicative exchange will take place.”

The results of not listening and little, if any dialogue “Can be interpreted by the officer that the person is planning to argue right out the gate, or plotting something. It is an invitation to trouble,” Jones cautions.

“Even if you disagree with the officer, this is not the place or time to argue with the person who has the pepper spray, baton, Taser, gun, and most likely, plenty of back up on the way. If you feel you have been wronged –which does happen–then make that argument in court,” he strongly recommends.

“However, if you decide to ‘hold court’ on the side of the road, or at the time of the event, you will most likely lose there and then lose in court.

“The only exception I could see to refusing to obey is if you really are dealing with a rogue officer and it means life or death for you. But this is not The Movie Channel and those instances are about as common as being struck by lightning — Twice, Jones concluded.

And so, to “John,” You and the Law has this recommendation. Keep it up. Some lawyer needs your parents’ money.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.