I’m trying to give Clinton some second chances; I was surprised to find him being more thoughtful than I gave credit for. On Tuesday he came into class to teach us the “Seven Step” approach to traffic stops. In a nutshell, the seven steps are designed to reduce citizen complaints against police officers by introducing ourselves, depersonalizing the stop to remove ego from the equation. We are instructed to be polite, informative, calm, reassuring, informative and courteous.
The seven-step approach, according to every cop I have spoken with, generates more complaints than any other police activity.
“Hello,” I say, “I’m Officer Jackson of the San Jose Police Department. The reason you’ve been stopped today is that I clocked your speed at 43 miles per hour in a 30-miles-per-hour zone. Is there any emergency reason for this excessive rate of speed?”
“Well, no, officer, I’m late for work.”
“I see, okay, no big deal,” I say, as I move from behind the driver-side Frame B to in front of what used to be the driver-side vent window, looking into the car at the driver. “May I please see your driver license and proof of insurance?” And as the driver hands these to me, I examine them. “Are you still at 82 Bedford Lane?” I ask, intentionally messing up the street number.
“No, I’m at 87 Bedford Avenue,” the driver says.
“All right, is all the information on the license correct?”
“Okay, hang tight for me, I’ll be right back, sir,” I say, handing him back his insurance card. I walk back to my car, run his license for warrants, enter the information on the citation and walk back to him, ensuring that I am using cover, staying observant and not being complacent.
“Sir, you will be receiving a citation today for excessive speed.”
“Oh, man! Come on. I … I … Look, I can’t afford a ticket, how much is it?”
“I actually don’t know how much it is, but the address, telephone number and website of the court is printed on the back of the citation. May I have your signature here please? It is not an admission of guilt but it is a promise to appear in court or pay the ticket within 21 days.”
“Look, seriously, I can’t afford this, and I really don’t think I was going that fast.”
“Sir, I understand, and that is what court is for – I would encourage you to exercise your right as a motorist to show up in court and argue your side of the story; the address is there, and you can explain your side.”
“Look, I can’t go to court – I have to work.”
“Sir, no problem, our court is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 pm to 8.30 pm.”
“And what am I supposed to do with my kids, I have three kids.”
“Well, actually, there’s a park and playground directly next to the court, and lots of people bring their kids – we’re not trying to make life harder for you, and you’ll see that it will be pretty straightforward.”
“Okay, fine,” he says, and signs the ticket. “But I still think this is unfair, I really wasn’t speeding.”
“Honestly, sir, I understand your situation; you were clocked on radar, which is the reason you were stopped, and, again, I encourage you to go to court. Do you have any other questions before you go?”
“Okay, sir, drive carefully, and please slow down. Get home safely.”
That is pretty much the seven-step approach. We identify ourselves and our agency. Explain the reason for the stop. Offer an opportunity to provide an explanation for the behavior. Inform them of the action that will be taken. Take the action. Inform them of the procedures and answer questions. And leave.
Our Tuesday was spent, in 90 degree heat, doing this 23 times; parking the cars in the proper manner, approaching the vehicle carefully, checking the trunk, viewing the passenger compartment, watching the hands, and getting the shtick down so that we’re doing it by rote. We train like this to enable us to not have to think about what we’re saying, but to free our minds to watch for signs of something off; hands hidden, weapons, drugs, contraband…
It is intensely boring. I’m watching and learning, but several classmates are not; some are throwing rocks at the thousand gallon propane tank in front of which we are stopped (there’s a little driveway in front of the tank, perfect for the car stops). A group is sitting in the grass.
Clinton tells them to stop throwing rocks (what are they, 12?) and to stand up and pay attention, but he is ignored.
Unbeknownst to us, The Academy Director has driven by and witnessed this. He is furious. He is furious that the gate securing the car lot has been left unlocked (he demonstrated this anger, we later learn, by walking into Dave’s office holding the padlock and chain, and dropping it, without a word, on the floor, then walking out).
At the end of the day, Dave comes in and tells us that we have to wash the fleet of cars. All 15 of them. I’ve not mentioned it but there’s a large construction site directly across from our campus, where a high school is being erected, and dirt and dust is flying everywhere. The moment we finish washing the cars, they’re covered with a layer of grime, which quickly becomes mud as it hits the wet surface of the cars.
Back in the classroom, Clinton mentions how he thinks it may be inappropriate that several cadets are looking at websites he considers to be inappropriate for an educational setting. Glock, of course, is on a Glock gun-talk forum. And another cadet is actually playing an online poker game.
The two good things I got from the day: Genesee gave some excellent advice: “During field training, your first hour of your first day, pull over the first car you see doing anything wrong. It’s going to suck and you’re going to be nervous, but just do it and get it over with. You don’t even have to give him a ticket – give him a warning – but do it. Cause if you don’t, your FTO* will wait about 15 minutes and then say, ‘You know, I’ve seen 15 cars you could have pulled over for traffic infractions.’
“Then, on your first day when you’re cut loose**, do the same thing: pull over the first car you see. Pop your cherry. Get it over with.”
That’s awesome. Genesee has done, in his estimation, more than 10,000 car stops while he was a motor jock. Great advice.
The second great thing was that I got to say to Clinton, as I pulled him over, “Sir, I clocked you doing 31 miles per hour in a 30 mile an hour zone; is there any emergency reason for this excessive speed?”
See, our agency is mocked by all for being absolutely authoritarian in its enforcement of the speed laws; our chief truly believes (and has compelling evidence) that, as speed is enforced, all crime is reduced. So while one-over is an exaggeration, people are stopped in our town for five-over all the time.
* “FTO” is a Field Training Officer, the experienced officer(s) who conduct training of rookies just out of the academy until the rookie proves he is responsible enough to be let out on his own
**”Cut Loose” is the act of pronouncing a rookie ready to patrol alone, without supervision, and given a patrol car of his own.