The Coweta County Sheriff's Office recently conducted its first “POLICE – CITIZEN ENCOUNTERS” class.
Deputy Sheriff Drew Moorman conducted a group of about 12 citizens, young and old. This class focused on perhaps the most common Police/Citizen encounter – the traffic stop. Although Moorman was receptive to open questions and active dialog throughout the class, he did work from prepared slides.
In the example, it’s dark and an officer clocks an auto exceeding the speed limit. The officer follows the car until they come to a safe place for the stop; then the officer will turn on the “blue lights” and commence with the encounter.
The officer calls the dispatch and provides the license plate number. As he approaches the auto on the passenger side, he or she notices there is one person in the passenger seat and three adults in the rear seat.
He asks the driver to roll down their window and produce their license and registration. The officer may also ask the passengers to roll down their windows. As all of this is happening, the officers are alert to the smell of alcohol or marijuana.
Now, if the driver and the passengers are smart, considerate or just plain decent, they will try to alleviate the tension that the officer may be feeling by turning on the interior light and have everyone put their hands where the officer can see them. This includes the people in the back seat.
As the driver is getting his registration, he tells the officer that the registration is in the glove compartment along with his gun. Hopefully, the officer will say, “Thank you for telling me.” (instead of some dumb comment like, “Well I’ve got one, too”). The officer will probably shine his light on the glove compartment as the driver removes his/her registration.
Now, the officers can deduce from the smell of alcohol and the behavior of the passengers that they are close to knee walking drunk, but the driver may be the designated driver and is stone, cold sober.
Still, the officer asks the driver to step out of the car and performs a few field sobriety tests. As this is all happening, the driver tries to control his passengers, and not add to what is already a tense situation. The driver passes the field sobriety tests and returns to the car.
Perhaps because of the attitude and cooperation of the driver, the officer lets him/her go with just a warning. He may even ask the passengers in the back seat if anyone feels sick and allows them to get out of the car if the area allows for it.
This fictional stop had a happy ending, but it could just as easily ended with one of the back seat passengers pulling a gun and shooting the officer as the driver sped away. Either way, it was a police-citizen encounter.
Other questions or explanations involved quotas, the contents of a traffic citation, what you have to do if you do get a traffic summons, how to appeal it, what to do if an officer is rude or disrespectful, what happens to the traffic fines, traffic cameras, and the concept of articulable suspicion and a casual conversation between an officer and a citizen.
Moorman said that more of these classes would be developed (with the underlying purpose of relieving some tension between the police and the citizens). The next one is on burglaries and should be on the second Tuesday of next month. So, keep an eye out for new classes. They will be announced on the Sheriff’s Facebook page.