Headlines of young black people being shot by police have dominated news outlets across the nation for years. In an attempt to address some of the fear and misunderstanding between law enforcement and the black community, the Loudoun NAACP Legal Redress Committee hosted an event with several local law enforcement leaders on May 20.
“I’ve met so many law enforcement from this community who are great people,” Loudoun NAACP President Phillip Thompson said. “We need to figure out as a community how we help our kids deal with law enforcement stops.”
Thompson said that Virginia has the highest rate of youth involvement in the criminal justice system. The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) gave a presentation on law enforcement and the community that targeted black young people, particularly boys, ages 13 to 18.
According to NOBLE’s presentation, a black man born in 1991 has a 29 percent chance of spending time in prison at some point in his life, and black men ages 30 to 34 have the highest incarceration rate of any race/ethnicity. The presentation broke down common misconceptions, how law enforcement are trained to respond to common situations and how citizens should respond to law enforcement.
In 2016, 963 people were shot and killed by police nationally, 233 of which were black, according to the Washington Post Police Shooting database. Additionally, 145 police officers were killed in the line of duty nationally, so understanding law enforcement before a crisis situation can help civilians and police de-escalate a situation, NOBLE co-presenter Randy Hart said.
Hart and Easton McDonald, also of NOBLE, provided the advice below to members of the public on how to best conduct themselves in common situations with police. They were joined by Leesburg Police Chief Greg Brown, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Mark Poland and several FBI representatives, who also offered advice.
“The community is the police and the police is the community. We are nobody but fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers within your community,” Brown said. “The only thing that makes us different is we get paid to enforce the law. So we’re folks just like you.”
Common misconceptions between law enforcement and civilians
- Police officers can look intimidating, especially when they wear large equipment like external vests. However, what most civilians don’t know is that vests better distribute the weight of equipment than a belt, which can cause back and hip problems.
- Police officers work for the community and are not out to get any particular group.
- If an officer is acting unprofessionally, do not challenge the officer over their behavior or any charges/tickets received at the scene. Follow police orders and later fill out a complaint with the officer’s organization. Reports can be made online or by calling a police station.
- If a member of the public makes a complaint, they will not be subject to retaliation. Command staff encourage reporting of unprofessional behavior so that it can be corrected.
Strive for positive interactions
- When approached by a law enforcement officer in a casual conversation, maintain eye contact and respond politely.
- Fill out reports online or over the phone if an officer does something particularly well. The praise is contagious and inspires other officers to do the same.
- Follow local law enforcement on social media. Organizations’ social media informs on events, DUI checkpoints and sometimes even traffic updates.
What to know about detainment
- If stopped by the police for questioning about a crime, remain calm and mature. Do not use profanity or a raised tone with officers.
- Obey all requests from the officer.
- Do not run if approached by police.
- Keep hands visible at all times. Law enforcement is trained to watch people’s hands because that is how officers are most commonly hurt.
- The police profile behavior, not people. Negative behaviors such as a raised voice, cursing in public, drinking out of a paper bag or other activities may draw the attention of a law enforcement officer. Avoid drawing that negative attention.
- Remember everyone has the fifth amendment right not to speak to the police. However, not giving basic information that could be used to clear suspicion could result in a charge for hindering an investigation.
- Officers can pat a detained individual down for weapons or have the individual sit in a police car while detained.
- A temporary detainment lasts a maximum of 20 minutes. After that, the officer has to notify a supervisor.
- If the detained individual is a minor, ask an officer to call the parents.
- If a member of the public is unsure if they are being detained, ask officers, “Am I being detained?” or “Am I under arrest?”
- If an officer comes to an individual’s home, politely ask for identification such as a card or badge.
- If presented with a warrant, check if it is a body or search warrant.
- A body warrant allows officers to search an individual but not a place.
- A search warrant allows officers to search all places an item may be hidden.
How to interact with during traffic stops
- Slow down and pull over safely when possible. If the police vehicle is unmarked and the driver is not in uniform, drive below the speed limit to a well-lit, populated spot and then pull over.
- Just like with public detainment, also engage with polite, calm responses, keep hands on the steering wheel ask an officer before reaching for anything.
- Turn on the overhead light to give the officer better visibility at night.
- Do not exit the vehicle unless instructed to do so.
Reasons you could be pulled over
- Keep your car in order with registration and decals up to date.
- It is illegal in Virginia to have anything hanging from the rearview mirror and hanging something there is grounds for being pulled over.
- This includes handicap parking permits. These permits should be removed while driving and placed on the rearview mirror only while parked.
- Windows that exceed the allowable amount of tint are also subject to being pulled over.