Should police interactions be taught in driver training courses?

In our last post, we discussed the importance of knowing your rights when interacting with police, especially when it comes to things like filming the encounter. Police officers may not be entirely truthful about what is and isn't legal, and this can lead to many potential problems, including an escalation of force or the violation of your civil liberties.

Because police encounters have become such a hot-button issue, six states are considering or have already passed legislation that requires driving instruction programs to include information on how to appropriately interact with police during a traffic stop. The goal is to give teen drivers the knowledge they need to avoid a legally or physically dangerous encounter.

Unfortunately, some of these bills seem to focus almost entirely on the driver's responsibilities without emphasizing his or her rights. A bill in North Carolina, for instance, is currently advancing through the legislature. If enacted, it would develop the driver training curriculum with input from three different law enforcement agencies and no input from civil liberties groups.

An already enacted program in Illinois focuses heavily on driver responsibilities but only briefly mentions the responsibilities of law enforcement. It reads, in part: "a driver is to be treated with dignity and respect by law enforcement officers," and notes that "officers are required to provide their names and badge numbers upon request."

To be sure, it is important for each of us to be respectful in our interactions with law enforcement and to comply with their orders as the law requires. But respect and responsibility must be a two-way street. There have been numerous high-profile cases in recent years where unarmed (usually African-American) suspects are shot and killed by officers despite remaining calm and trying to comply with orders. No amount of driver politeness would prevent incidents in which police essentially shoot first and ask questions later.

During an interaction with police, your immediate priority may need to be preventing the situation from escalating. And if you were arrested/charged or feel that your rights were violated, you should seek the help of a good criminal defense attorney as soon as you can safely do so.

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