Cops Are Human Too.
Today’s column deals with carrying a concealed firearm and interactions with police officers. Today’s column is only partially about the law, because the law is only one part of the issue to be discussed.
You look in your rearview mirror and see those red and blue lights flashing and you pull easily to the side of the road. You put on your flashers. You set the parking brake, lower your windown and you place your hands at the 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock positions on the steering wheel.
Now, let’s begin, but not from the position where you’re in the car.
We’re going to place you in the patrol car. You’ve just pulled over someone for a traffic violation. You’re running the tag, and you’re making a few decisions about the person you stopped. You note the vehicle, its age and cleanliness. It doesn’t fit the description of anything you have seen come across the computer recently (or maybe it does). The driver is staying put. You don’t see frantic movement. But that doesn’t mean you’re safe on this stop. In the back of your head is the fact that six police officers have been shot just this week. Because of that, you’re going to be careful approaching this vehicle.
A Bad Example
Now, before we go any further, let’s take a look at how not to do a stop with a police officer. This comes to us via the concealncarry.net group and the video is a true public service. It details Florida deputy Andy Cox and his stop of Joel Smith several years ago. At the time there was a lot of grousing about how the deputy did not respect the citizen’s right to carry concealed. Respect, friends, is a two way street.
It takes two to tango. Yes, the deputy could have been more respectful, and yes, he clearly over-reacted to the display of the holster (the federal court found that while he couldn’t see the firearm, he was entitled to believe that one was in the holster). No question that Deputy Cox was a bit rattled by the experience. And, if we want to be nit-picky, Cox violated procedure by not disarming the suspect immediately.
But the citizen didn’t exactly endear himself to the officer in the first place. Take a look back through the dashcam video again. You’ll notice (1) the citizen dismounts from the vehicle without being directed to; and (2) he falsely claims his tag is not expired when it is. At no time does he say “I have a conceal and carry permit and I am carrying a pistol.” Had he done so, it’s doubtful there would be a problem here. Actions create reactions.
Now, Florida law does not require a person to disclose to law enforcement, but it also doesn’t require you to say “good morning” or to say “excuse me” when you pass gas. That’s because courtesy and respect are required not by law but by good manners, and are demonstrated by our actions. So the proper way to handle this kind of matter is to show respect in order to get respect. That’s what doesn’t happen here.
Back to our Scenario
Back to our situation, and now you’re waiting for the police officer to step forward. When the police officer approaches his first words will likely be “do you know why I stopped you?” If you do, say yes, and if not, say no, and then say “officer, I need to inform you of something for our safety.” Yes, you read that right: our safety. If you put the cop’s safety in danger, he will put your safety in danger. Cox should likely not have said he would shoot Smith in the back, but then again, that was provoked by Smith’s failure to disclose the firearm. Then you say “I have a valid conceal and carry permit, and I am carrying a pistol in a holster on my right hip. It has a round in the chamber, and it is a Glock so there is no safety. What would you like me to do?”
Now, I can hear you libertarians out there saying “in the absence of a statute requiring you to declare your firearm, you are under no obligation to do so.” Yeah, I get that. Honestly, I do. But when your libertarian principles clash with the real world that the police officer lives in, that creates the kind of conflict that get people like Joel Smith arrested. Remember, you’re not declaring your firearm because you have a legal obligation to (unlike, for example, in Arkansas where you do have that legal obligation). You’re declaring your firearm out of respect for the fact that the officer has a right to expect to come home at night, and you can be seen as either a person who wants to make sure that happens, or someone who doesn’t care. If you fall into the latter category, you should not expect any respect from the officer. Show respect to get respect.
The Police Reaction
It has been my experience that the cop may say “nothing, just keep your hands away from there.” In some situations (for example, where your car is the same model as something reported stolen) he may ask you to step out so he can relieve you of the firearm while you talk (no, dumbass, don’t take it out and hand it to him unless you want “here lies stupid” as an epitaph). The police officer might ask you to do something else. Whatever he tells you to do, that is what you should do. Do not argue. Every answer should end with sir or ma’am depending on which applies. And for God’s sake, don’t start talking about calling your lawyer. Even if you’re treated badly, the time to take that matter up will be later, off the side of the road, and in front of someone who can grant you relief. Arguing with the officer will just piss him/her off.
Why did Joel Smith get arrested? What Joel Smith did was essentially, through his actions, say “Surprise! I have a gun!” Cops do not like to discover this after you’ve reached behind your back several times and any one of those times you could have come back with a firearm. If you’re obeying the law, and particularly if you’re on video, chances are very good you will be well treated.
So, how does the story end? I’ve never had an encounter with an officer end badly when I showed respect, even if I didn’t get respect. The time to argue over what happened and whether the cop is right in giving you a ticket is in court. You won’t win the discussion at the side of the road. The courts exist to protect your rights.
Joel Smith was not prosecuted for his supposed violation of the conceal and carry statute. At the time of the arrest, the statute was broadly worded such that Smith’s “display” was effectively a statutory violation (though it was not criminal because there was no intent to display the weapon). The prosecutor, viewing the video, and finding Smith’s permit was valid, likely decided not to march off the cliff next to the officer. As a side note, the Florida statute was amended in 2011 to say that a brief display of the weapon, in other than a threatening manner, was not a crime. That came too late to help Smith, but it will help you (in Florida anyway). So Mr. Smith did not have to deal with a criminal charge in the end.
Instead, he hired a lawyer and sued, and learned the other lesson that comes with suing a law enforcement officer. Citizens don’t win. Courts grant police officers greater latitude than any other professional. They can make a reasonable mistake, and as long as they don’t violate a known constitutional right, they can’t be sued. The end to Joel Smith’s case is found here.