An evening TV news program showing a traffic stop “that got out of hand and escalated” led Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, to introduce a bill requiring instructions of how motorists should interact with police.
“My wife and I were talking, and you know, we said a lot of people don’t know how you’re supposed to act,” Goodman said. “I said, ‘I think I can fix that.’”
House Bill 21 would add instructions about interacting with police interaction to the Divsion of Motor Vehicles driver’s manual and to state driver’s education courses.
“I think it may save some lives,” Goodman said. In recent years, news reports have shown clips of interactions between people and police officers that escalated into violence, including some traffic stops. For example, last summer a police officer in Minnesota shot and killed a motorist who, a passenger said, was reaching for his driver’s license after he was stopped because of a broken tail light. Goodman and other bill sponsors hope the instructions will make motorists aware of concerns police officers face in a traffic stop and will help prevent confrontations.
Goodman has bipartisan support for his bill. Primary sponsors include fellow Democratic Rep. Beverly Earle of Mecklenburg County and Republican Reps. John Faircloth of Guilford County and Allen McNeill of Randolph County.
Both of the GOP sponsors have law enforcement experience. Faircloth is a retired High Point police chief. McNeill is a retired colonel in the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office.
Faircloth said Goodman’s idea is common sense, particularly for young people just learning to drive.
“It seemed to me that Rep. Goodman had found a way to get easily to those drivers of any age and have them understand first of all some of the concerns that law enforcement officers have when they’re stopping a car, and secondly what the person could do to properly have that officer feel more comfortable in doing his job,” Faircloth said.
“The first concern obviously is that people kind of assume that a police officer knows what’s going on when he or she is getting ready to stop an automobile,” Faircloth said.
“You’re actually going through a function in which you have very little information except maybe the person has done something wrong,” Faircloth said. “You don’t know who that person is, what their problems may be, whether or not that person is armed, what their reaction to authority is.”
“It’s an unknown that that officer is having to deal with every time he or she stops a car,” Faircloth continued. “I think if the young drivers – and all drivers for that matter – could understand that officer’s concern, they could then easily understand why there may be a recommended way to properly anticipate that officer’s walking up to the window and giving certain explanations and asking for certain things.”
“The most important concern for that officer is, what am I going to encounter here when I take that next 10 steps up to that window,” Faircloth said.
Faircloth said that while a lot of young people have dealt with authority figures — their parents, older people, teachers — they may not have thought about how to react when stopped by a police officer.
“It’s an experience that we just don’t prepare your young people for,” Faircloth said, suggesting that parents talk to their children about what to do in those circumstances. “This is a situation that is going to happen. It happens thousands of times across the country when people are stopped.”
The bill calls for the DMV to work with the State Highway Patrol, the N.C. Sheriff’s Association, and the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police to develop the information to insert into the state driver’s handbook and to teach in driver’s education courses.
The bill has been sent to the House Transportation Committee.