Guest opinion: Innocent appearance, dangerous situations
February 11, 2018
It seems routine and simple enough to us civilians. Someone violates a traffic law and the local police make a quick and simple stop, write a summons or warning, and they are done. Right? Wrong.
First of all, there is no such thing as a "routine" call to our officers. Those of us on the outside don't see much of what goes on within our small, hometown communities. We think of our towns as Mayberry — where all the citizens are upstanding and honorable and it is only those few well known but lovable trouble makers that occasionally give our officers grief. Or, we can blame it on those darn transients — just passing through.
And then there are the national headlines and the televisions shows that give the impression that all of law enforcement are quick to judge and anxious to pull the trigger. As a result, elected officials put the pressure on our departments to err on the side of being too nice and overly accommodating.
Is this a recipe for disaster? Are we putting our officers into impossible situations if we do not allow them the ability to quickly and decisively take control of what appear to be innocent situations, but can quickly turn deadly for all involved? I believe we are.
We are not living in Mayberry. Colorado has lost three deputies in "routine" calls within the last two months.
In 2014, a state patrolmen, Eugene Hofacker was shot and seriously wounded when he and a fellow trooper stopped to lend assistance to a stopped vehicle in Glenwood Canyon.
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A juvenile was arrested recently, outside of Carbondale, for shooting a two-year-old family pet — for apparently no reason. Just recently containers used to "cold cook" methamphetamine were discovered in the Roaring Fork River.
Ask any law enforcement officer or emergency responder and they will tell you that the prevalence of meth, heroine and other drugs is a serious problem and on the increase in our valley. This simply makes every contact that an officer makes more dangerous and unpredictable.
That "routine" traffic stop is suddenly not so routine.
Yes, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Our officers simply want to be able to do their job, protect their citizens and return home to their families at the end of their shift. Elected officials and administrators need to give them the tools they need, and then step aside to trust them to do their job.
Law enforcement officials in all of our communities are aware of the importance of building relationships and trust with the citizens. These officers know their communities and are in the schools, helping with events, and offering assistance. However, if we want to truly protect our communities and work to get opioids off the streets, out of our school and away from our neighborhoods, then we must allow law enforcement officers to do their job. They can't always be the nice guy.
In a recent article on "community policing," Jon Gaskins, a long-term law enforcement officer and community policing advocate pointed out that, "Bad people exist and they especially love to hide in communities where police influence is negligible so they can continue to act nefariously with little or no intervention." We must be able to strike a balance between "good cop, bad cop."
Traffic stops are some of the most dangerous. The next time you are pulled over for that traffic violation, don't make the situation worse by your actions and attitude.
Here are some suggestions to make things go easier for everyone:
1. Acknowledge by turning on your signal or emergency flashers
2. Pull over in a safe area
3. Stay in your vehicle, with your seat belt on unless specifically told to exit your vehicle.
4. Turn off your engine and roll down your window
5. Keep your cool
6. Keep your hands visible by placing them on the steering wheel. Passengers should also have their hands visible at all times.
7. Cooperate and follow directions
8. Have your current registration and insurance card together and easily accessible. Throw out documents that are outdated.
9. Reach for license, registration and insurance information only when asked to do so
10. If you have a concealed carry permit and have a firearm in the vehicle, let the officer know
11. Be civil — don't argue. If you want to fight the summons, do so in court, not on the side of the road.
In the end, we all want to live in a community where we feel safe. Our law enforcement officers are the ones that make that happen. Don't make their job more difficult by usurping their authority. It only comes back to bite us in the end.
Kathryn Trauger is a former Glenwood Springs City Council member and Post Independent columnist who has family members in law enforcement.