Thursday, July 31, 2008

Police Stop

I knew my car was past due for inspection. I thought maybe 5 or 6 months. But, it’s a relatively newer mini-van. It is dented and dinged up a bit. (I lent it to my mother while I was living in London.) But, it’s safe.

I had put inspection on my “Round To It” list - somewhere between “weed the front flower bed” and “obtain 45 minutes of peace and quiet.“ That was the wrong thing to do. I should have been a law-abiding citizen and given up my car to the mechanic's for a day. But, it just gets so busy around here! I kept putting it off.

The fastest way home from my son’s violin lesson is through a neglected neighbourhood. Homewood is a fairly crime-ridden, depressed, predominantly Black section of Pittsburgh. I’m jaunting along, relieved that my son was willing to work extra hard today. I notice a police cruiser make a u-turn. I get the feeling they’ve turned around to head back for me.

In the back seat, my son is happily munching his kids meal reward. Chomping and singing along with his Bollywood music. I think to myself, “Oh, travesty packet! Here it is, we are about to have Lesson Number Two in his studies of civil liberties.” I could only pray that it would be a good one.

The lights flash. They bleep the siren. Calmly, I say to my son, “The police want to talk to Mommy,” as I pull the car over. I turn off the cd player and say, “The police like it quiet when they talk with you.”

“Okay,” he says crunching a chip.

In my rear view mirror, two officers leave the cruiser. One heading toward my window and the other heading towards my son’s side. I crack the window enough to slip my information through.

The officer approaches my window. “Good afternoon, Officer,” I say with a smile.

“Can you roll your window down a little more?”

I crack the window another 2 centimetres. Not enough for him to get a hand through, certainly not enough for him to get his head in the window. I smile my most innocent and guileless smile.

He looks at me appraisingly.

I wait.

He waits.

I wait.

He shuffles his feet. The other officer peers into the passenger side. I wonder what he must think. Sitting upright in the passenger seat is a case for a 1/10 size violin. Starbucks cups fill both cup holders, each inside of a ceramic mug. A tupperware container of almonds; granola bar wrappers; organic chocolate milk and juice boxes on the floor jumbled between crayon drawings and a jumble of toys. A regular mess of busy mommyhood.

I wait.

“I pulled you over today because your inspection stickers are one and a 1/2 years out-of-date.

I am flabbergasted. After all, I only returned from London one and 1/2 years ago. How could my parents have let the car go uninspected? Craziness! My father - a lawyer who believes firmly in the infallibility of the law (except as it often pertains to issues of civil rights) - would never let this happen! But, he did.

And it must have shown on my face.

So, I wait.

“May I see your license and registration?”

“Of course!” I exclaim. I pause. “My license is in my purse and my registration is in the glove compartment. May I produce them for you?”

“Yes Ma’am.” He is clearly put off by me. I’m weird.

I hand him my old license (with my new change of address card) and all three registration cards I find in the glove compartment. “I don’t know which is what, but one of them is right. Can you help me?” I smile sheepishly.

He hands back two out of date registration cards. “I’ll be right back.”

In the rear view mirror, he confers with his partner. I see them looking at my bumper sticker. It reads “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.”

He returns. I wait. He looks at my license and verifies my address. (a lovely cul-de-sac in the “good” neighbourhood bordering the one I am in.)

“Yes, sir.”

“Are you going home?”

“Yes, sir,” I sputter, “well no sir, I’m going to one of those inspection places....actually sir I should drop my son off at home with his father before and I go to one of those places. What do you think?”

“I actually can’t recommend an inspection station. But, I’m going to let you off with a warning. You need to have your husband sign the registration. That’s a $150..00 fine. And I could have cited you for the inspection. But, you just get it taken care of.”

“Oh! Thank you sir!” I gush, “Really, really. thank you.”

All right Ma’am, have a god day.”

“Well you have a good day and stay safe out here.” I gush as he walks away.

I drive off. I’m a little shaky thinking of all the ways this could have gone wrong. But, my son stayed calm and quiet. I stayed calm and in control of my knowledge of the Bill Of Rights.

What I Hoped My Son Learned.

1. Be calm, patient.
A. I greeted the officer respectfully.
B. I waited for him to tell me why I was pulled over.

2. Be cheerful and co-operatively non-compliant.
A. I obeyed his request to open my window,
B. BUT, within parameters that would not provide any opportunity for any requests for search my property.

3. Be patient and quiet.
A. I knew why I was being pulled over.
B. BUT, I volunteered no information and made no admissions of guilt.

4. Be enthusiastically submissive - as it pertains to your health and well-being.
A. I agreed to turn over my information.
B. Even given permission to do so, I asked for confirmation that I was safe to comply with his request. I would be reaching into concealed locations in my vehicle. So, I provided the exact location of each item.

5. Be delightfully ignorant.
A. Let the officer feel as if he is in control. By giving him all of the old registrations, I allowed him to protect and serve me.
B. I asked the officer for help when I asked him what he thought I ought to do in regards to the situation at hand.


Anonymous said...

i enjoyed the read. almost ideal for me. what do you think about being picky about not having to say where you are going? is it worth anything? what other questions would you have answered, i wonder? are there any particular articles/stories in a similar vein that you could recommend? thank you!

Christina Springer said...

Thanks. I agree, I did not have to say where I was going. In this instance, however, I was operating an illegal vehicle. Therefore, what the officer wanted to hear was whether I would volunteer to remove the vehicle from the street. On the other hand, I would need to operate it in order to get it to an inspection station. Therefore, I felt it behooved me to tell him I was going to comply with the law. I choose to do it the way I did it to demonstrate compliance, cooperation and awareness of his power. I don't believe I would have answered any other questions - hence the reason I remained silent for a majority of the interview.

You'll remember the only times I volunteered information was as it pertained to appearing compliant. The officer was within his bounds to require my information. It was a legitimate traffic stop. I am expected to comply with these demands.

I think common sense is important in these encounters. Volunteering to obey the law - by going home - was necessary information for a good outcome. I provided information in the following blog about dealing with police encounters. I saw much worse outcomes within the next few days in the exact same location. It has some resources. Police Stop: The Sequel

Thanks for stopping by.