Non-Emergency Police Contact
An Interview with Massad Ayoob
Interview by Gila Hayes
Comments from members frequently drive the focus of our Network journal. Throughout our 11 years of operation, questions and concerns have often been raised about armed citizens’ contact with law enforcement not only after self defense but under the most benign of circumstances, while driving, walking or in other facets of daily life.
These questions make it clear that law abiding citizens are afraid of losing their gun rights through charges they obstructed law enforcement, resisted arrest, or committed other offenses stemming from hostile contact with police. With Network benefits reserved for the monumental expenses to fight the legal aftermath of use of force in self defense, paying to defend against charges resulting from arguing with patrol officers is outside the scope of the Network’s help. As with so many armed lifestyle challenges, the manner in which the armed citizen comports him- or herself is the key to avoiding trouble.
In our member education lectures, Network Advisor Massad Ayoob teaches post-self defense interactions with law enforcement. We recommend periodic reviews of Ayoob’s Five Point Checklist and other teachings (members will log in and stream this instruction at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/immediate-aftermath while non-members can get a preview at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/preview-handling-the-aftermath-of-a-self-defense-shooting ). With critical incident concerns so ably addressed, our topic today turns to the fear and antipathy sometimes expressed by law abiding citizens toward law enforcement. What can members do to keep these routine contacts with police on a positive footing?
Preeminent instructor Massad Ayoob agreed to answer these and other questions, and we switch now to our Q&A format to preserve the flavor of the conversation.
eJournal: I become concerned when members express frightened and hostile opinions about police. I’m afraid the attitudes expressed by some will create disaster during a simple traffic stop or other contact that could have been settled in a business-like way. While I can’t change policing as a whole, I would like to brainstorm strategies to keep our people safe during routine contact with law enforcement. Mas, your careers have given you a unique perspective from which to advise us on these concerns.
Ayoob: I’ve been on both sides of it: I was an armed citizen before I became a cop; I’ve been an armed citizen since my retirement from the police department in 2017. When I was in my teens, if somebody had asked me what are the worst possible jobs you could ever have, never having actually done either job and having only seen the jobs from one perspective, my answer would have been a toss-up between being a teacher and being a cop. If you are a teacher you have to do the same thing over and over again and it is going to be boring as hell and half of the people you have to deal with will hate you because you have control over them and if you are a cop, everybody will hate you. Once I grew up, I ended up being both teacher and cop. If you haven’t done the other person’s job, you need to back off a little bit from theorizing what their job might be like and how you would do it until you’ve been a little bit closer to it and seen what that job entails and gotten a little empathy for the person doing that job.
eJournal: You’ve divided your life’s work between working as a part-time yet fully-sworn police officer, teaching both police and private citizens, and giving expert witness testimony in the courts. I’ve often wondered why you didn’t work full-time in law enforcement.
Ayoob: There was so much else I wanted to do. I wanted to teach; I wanted to write. If I was a full-time cop, I would have been lucky to get a week off a year to take training outside the department. If I was on my own, I could take as much training as I wanted, siphon it to others who needed it but weren’t budgeted to get it and still patrol whenever I wanted.
eJournal: We in the private sector have certainly benefitted from that choice because you’ve put a lot of effort into helping your students understand policing. That relates to our topic today–what do citizens inadvertently do and say during relatively benign contact with police that creates concern and even fear for officer safety? Can you help us understand how contacts that should have been routine sometimes turn antagonist, hostile and dangerous?
Ayoob: One of the things I learned early on was from the late Col. Paul Doyon, who at that time was Superintendent of the New Hampshire State Police. He said, the job is not guns and clubs, in fact, the job is people. My first night on the job, my field training officer said, “There’s one thing to remember out here: don’t be an ass.” That is taught in the police academies. Every one of America’s 800,000 cops has probably been told, “Don’t be an ass,” so now we just have to get to the other 320 million people in this country and tell them the same thing.
eJournal: Well, you’re right, it takes two to fight! Additionally, we know the tenor of our interactions mirrors the attitudes we exhibit. However, we can’t ignore the problem of fearful, defensive citizens. Most often, if armed citizens are unexpectedly thrust into contact with police it is while driving. We’re pulled over because a headlight is out or we’re speeding. In our discomfort, what do we inadvertently do and say that raises officer safety concerns?
Ayoob: Let’s start at the beginning. As soon as you see those lights in the rearview mirror start pulling over. Start complying. I’ve experienced it; any cop who has been on the road for a while has experienced it: You turn on the lights and you know the guy has seen you. When you look at us in your rearview mirror, in the car behind you we are looking directly into the eyes of your reflected image. We know you saw us, but you keep going.
When you finally pull over and I ask you, “Why didn’t you pull over when I first put on the lights?” it is always the same answer: “I thought you were trying to pull over the guy in front of me.” [chuckling] What people have to remember is that if we wanted to pull over the guy in front of you, we would have pulled up behind him and turned on the lights!
When you don’t immediately respond, the officer has to assume you are deciding whether you are going to fight or whether you are going to run, either of which endangers him and the public and he goes to a very Day-Glo shade of Condition Orange. So immediately pull over. If you are in heavy traffic, turn on your turn signal, tap your brake lights and make it clear that you are complying.
Once you pull over, put the car in park, turn off the ignition, and if it is nighttime, turn on the interior lights. You do that for a number of reasons. First, it lets the officer see what’s going on inside the car so that reaching for your registration isn’t going to be mistaken for reaching for a gun. The light tells the cop that there is nothing in that car that you’re afraid for him to see.
When the officer comes up, make sure your hands are visible. Roll down the window before he gets to you and unless there’s howling, horizontal rain, roll down both windows. This comes to mind because we just had a series of Illinois State Troopers killed on the highways. A lot of officers today will approach from the right side of the vehicle for their own personal safety.
The officer will ask for license, registration and proof of insurance. You want to have those where you can reach them without exposing a firearm. You would not believe how many people will leave a pistol lying on top of their automobile registration in the glove box! Don’t do that! You know what reaching in that direction is going to look like and you know how the officer is going to react.
In a right-handed world, most of us carry on the strong side hip. That means if you’re reaching for a wallet, even if it is on the left side, you have to unbuckle the seat belt to get to it. That means the hand is going to be near the gun. At that point, I would say, “Certainly, officer, however, I have a license to carry. I do have it on, and to reach my wallet, I am going to have to unbuckle my seat belt which is on my right hip, where my pistol is holstered.”
Do not say, “I have a gun.” That is a threatening statement. If you say that, you are going to find out that the officer has one, too, and you are very likely going to see it from the front.
Move slowly. Remove the wallet carefully and have the driver’s license positioned where you don’t have to fumble for it. Particularly in the dark, be aware that if field training work is being done, the new officer will likely be on the other side of the car. Don’t make any movements or try to conceal anything, because that could look to either officer like you are reaching for a gun.
Be polite to the officer. The officer will probably ask you a question like, “Do you know why I’ve stopped you?” Generally, that is an attitude test. If your answer is, “No, I don’t,” the bullshit alert starts to go off. By the time we’re pulled over, most of us know pretty damn well why we’ve been pulled over.
Now, the other thing we have to remember is that we may not know why we’ve been pulled over and that creates a higher risk. The classic example is the Philando Castile incident in Minnesota. What Castile did not know in the moments before he was shot to death was that one of the reasons he was being pulled over was that he and his vehicle resembled the description of a suspect in an armed robbery.
That is why the dashcam recordings of that incident showed a second officer who would not routinely be there for a tail light out, the initial stated reason for the stop. The officer had broadcast that this vehicle fit the description of one they were looking for in an armed robbery, and that was why the second officer was present. That’s why when it became apparent that Castile was reaching for a pistol, the officer shot him so quickly.
eJournal: The videos show verbal interaction, with Castile saying he has a firearm and the officer saying to leave it where it is. Absent the unknown factors that made him continue to pull his gun from his pocket, I think for our readership, we have more concern about getting out our license, registration and proof of insurance without creating alarm. Should we already have those in hand as the officer approaches?
Ayoob: Don’t start reaching for your license and other papers while you are pulling over and the officer is still in the car behind you. From his perspective, if he sees someone reaching down into the glove box or reaching down to the hip or into a pocket, it looks like either there’s somebody reaching for a weapon or trying to hide contraband.
Make sure when you open your purse there is not a .45 sitting on top if you are going to have to withdraw your wallet. If reaching for your wallet is going to reveal a pistol or magazine pouch, you want to tell the officer beforehand, “I’m licensed to carry; I do have it on.” You’ve eliminated that scary “G” word. There are police departments where the command to shoot on the firing range during qualifications is when the range instructor cries, “Gun!”
If you’ve got that nervous young rookie cop on the other side, he can’t see into the car in the dark. With the traffic noise and everything else, he can’t hear all the words that are passing between you and the officer at the driver’s side window. If he hears, “[Babble, babble] Gun,” his gun is going to come out.
When the officer is approaching the car, I want the inside light to be on and I want my hands to be on the steering wheel at about eleven and one o’clock where he can see I’m not hiding anything, not holding a weapon and not offering any threat to him. Going from there, be polite, be quiet. The old saying is true: The side of the road is not the place to argue your traffic ticket. The right place would be in court.
eJournal: When we say, “I need to get my wallet out of my pants pocket, but I have a license to carry and the pistol is on my right hip, what would you like me to do?” in my limited experience the officer is likely to ask to take possession of the gun throughout the duration of the stop. That is a huge concern for armed citizens. How can we make that part of the interaction safer and less contentious?
Ayoob: First, do not argue with the officer. For many years, cops have had the absolute right under the Terry decision [see Terry v. Ohio] allowing police to search anything that’s within your reach and secure any weapons within your reach, your license to carry notwithstanding.
I am not going to be taking the gun out. If the officer was novice enough to say, “Take the gun out and hand it to me,” I would not do so, the reason being that if there is a rookie cop in the dark on the other side of the car that can’t hear him ask me to do that, it is going to look to him like I am pulling a gun on his superior officer and he is going to shoot me before I give the gun up.
I would say, “Certainly, officer. I don’t want it to look to anyone going by like I’m pulling a gun on a policeman. It is in a holster on my right hip (or wherever it is). Tell me what you would like me to do.” Throughout that I would want my hands motionless on the steering wheel in plain sight. The officer will probably tell you to step out of the vehicle, pat you down, remove the gun. Bear in mind, a whole lot of cops don’t have any experience with firearms except their own issue pistol and a long gun. It might not be the best time to be carrying a cocked and locked 1911 with a two-pound trigger that would be dangerous for someone who is unfamiliar with it to fumble.
If you have any complaints, save it for a judge. Do not argue with the policeman over a gun.
eJournal: What’re the pros and cons of not mentioning the gun unless you’re asked to get out of the car? Do you think we should notify even when it is not required?
Ayoob: That’s entirely up to you. Some states require that you notify the officers if you are carrying. Some states do not. All my career, I was in a state where they were not required to notify, so if someone told me they had a gun on, my hackles would go up a little bit and I might think, “OK, this guy’s so invested in his gun, that it is the first thing he talks about,” and while it wouldn’t cause me to change my approach, it would make me much more cautious and much more suspicious. That’s why I’d go with, “Officer, I’m licensed to carry and I do have it on. Tell me what you’d like me to do.”
Follow the officer’s commands. If the officer is alarmed by you having the gun–and some of them are because you’ll get the occasional cop who never saw a gun until he got to the academy–if he orders you to prone out in the rain or the snow, go ahead and do it. We’ll sort it out later in court.
eJournal: If asked to get out of the car how fast should you move? Will slow, deliberate actions be misinterpreted as noncompliant? Does too fast or slow create concern in the officer?
Ayoob: If the officer tells you to step out of the car, perform any movement slowly and smoothly. Now, if you are asked to step out of the vehicle, maybe like Mr. Castile, it’s because you fit the description of someone who has done a bad thing and you are about to be searched. Maybe you were a little bit careless and the officer thinks he has probable cause to check if you were driving while inebriated and you are probably going to be doing a field sobriety test.
Many officers still use the Rohmberg test which includes leaning the head back and arms going out to the side and touching your nose with your eyes closed. It’s not going to end well if your arms go out to the side, your coat opens, and the gun becomes visible. If you have not already advised the officer that you are legal to carry, if asked to step out of the car, at that point, you should say, “Certainly officer, however, I’m licensed to carry. I do have it on my right hip, shoulder holster under my left arm–where ever it is–tell me what you want me to do.” Then slowly and carefully follow those commands.
If there are two officers and one of them says, “Get down,” and the other one says, “Don’t move!” obey the one who says don’t move. When they stop screaming at you, say, “Officer, which of you should I obey? Which of you is in charge? Sir, tell me what you want me to do.” Do it calmly, don’t scream, control the F-bombs. Remember, you certainly are being recorded. Even with the dashcams today, if the lights are on and the camera is recording, the officer’s microphone is going to pick up all the words. If you are talking to him, you are talking to his microphone.
eJournal: Controlling the angry language means we can’t let ourselves get emotional. We learn and practice strategies and verbal intervention for other dangerous situations–do we need to practice for contact with law enforcement?
Ayoob: Absolutely. Just as with any form of human contact, if you haven’t planned for it beforehand, if you haven’t visualized yourself doing it beforehand, you are not going to be as ready as you should be when you have to do it on short notice. That conflict can be dialog or that conflict can be combat.
eJournal: We get so focused on the possibility of a critical incident that we forget to prepare for the smaller challenges in life.
Ayoob: Remember, that what may start as a non-critical incident can turn bad. How many street assaults began simply with pan handling?
eJournal: Both concerns make us think about how we react when we are in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation. Fear or worry makes some verbally aggressive.
Ayoob: One thing that gun folks have to keep in mind is something that I tell students in class. I say, “The reason you are in this class instead of someplace having fun is that you are an alpha male or female. You are one whose instinct is to protect others; you are used to being in charge of things. You have to understand that there will be times when you will not be the alpha. When you’re in court, you are not the player.
When you are in a roadside dialogue with a police officer who pulled you over, you are not the alpha, the officer is the one with the authority that makes them the alpha and you have to accept that. Understand that it is not you against him. This simply is the way our society is structured to work; compliance is expected of you as a member of society.
eJournal: These days people are hyperaware of personal space and feelings and aggressively defend personal rights. I submit that contact with law enforcement can become very dangerous for an easily offended person. I’m not suggesting that overreaching authority go unchecked, but as you stressed earlier, the safe place to pursue correction or amends isn’t in the dark by the side of the road. I’m appalled that we need training in how to behave, but I think we do.
Ayoob: A big part of the problem has been the way the media has portrayed things. Historically, police have been accultured not to discuss our cases in the press; we will wait for court. So, somebody writes a letter to their favorite columnist or their ombudsman at the local paper and they say, “The cops treated me like I was the second coming of Bonnie and Clyde just because I am a citizen exercising my Second Amendment rights.”
The cops, of course, historically have said, “I can’t discuss this. It will all come out in court.” Then, when it comes out in court that, in fact, the officer acted correctly, if that appears in the paper at all, it is on page 33. This has left the public reading that newspaper with the idea that the officers really do distrust armed citizens.
A good example is the case of Philando Castile that we mentioned earlier. Jeronimo Yanez–the officer who shot Castile–was acquitted. I’d add that the acquittal came about largely because of the expert testimony of my fellow Network Advisory Board member Emanuel Kapelsohn.
The general public had the perception that Castile was reaching for his wallet to take out his concealed carry permit and the cop panicked and shot him. The officer described how, at first Castile didn’t say, “I have a permit to carry” but rather he said, “I have a firearm,” and the officer said, “Just don’t take it out.” Then you hear on the dashcam, “Don’t take it out. Don’t take it out!” followed by the volley of shots fired by the officer.
Castile was carrying a full sized 9mm in a pocket. It was a Diamondback FS that is about the size of a Glock 17. The officer stated that Castile started to pull it out of his pocket while he was telling him not to and that was why he opened fire. The general public still doesn’t realize that; they still think the cop panicked while Castile was reaching for his wallet.
It is a documented fact that Mr. Castile’s wallet was in his other pocket and it was bright-colored and striped and would never have been mistaken for a firearm. While Philando’s girlfriend who was in the car said he was reaching for his wallet to show them his permit, that is not the case and is not borne out by the evidence. You’ve got who-knows-how-many people who think the officer shot him for trying to comply with the law and show his pistol permit.
eJournal: I didn’t expect the Castile case to come up in this interview, but it raises questions about verbal communication with police. At the opposite extreme, we hear people wanting to invoke their right to silence during any and all contact with law enforcement. Their plan is to hand over their ID and other papers but refuse to answer questions. Are you hearing these kinds of fears and ideas from students?
Ayoob: Yes, and so something I teach in my classes is how to handle a routine traffic stop. I think the public has been propagandized, so if you don’t know people who are cops or you’ve never been to one of the civilian police academies, or never been on a ride-along to see what they do, you don’t realize just how many hostile people officers have to deal with out there.
Don’t be saying stupid stuff like, “I don’t have to identify myself for you. I am a sovereign citizen, blah blah blah...” The cop has heard it all, and the cop is the one who has the law on his side.
eJournal: What is the minimum the citizen is required to provide when asked by police who they are and where they’re coming from or going to?
Ayoob: In most jurisdictions the absolute minimum requirement is your identification, the registration for your vehicle and in some states, it is mandatory to give your proof of automobile insurance. If he asks where you’ve been, you do have the right to remain silent but then ask yourself, “Why?” What do you gain from doing that? If you are coming from work, let the officer know, “I’m coming from work and I’m going home.”
Today, in my case, I am in Baton Rouge, LA many miles from home and if I am asked what I am doing here, I will say, “I’m in Baton Rouge to teach a class,” because I have nothing to hide and no reason to debate.
If the officer wants to search the car, I will probably say, “Officer, I understand your concerns, but I assure you that there is nothing illegal in the vehicle and it would be a waste of both your time and mine.”
If I have time, I might say, “Well, go ahead, officer, just make sure you put everything back where you found it.”
If you tell the officer, no, I’m not cooperating, he might just tell you, “Fine. Wait here, sir,” and call for a sniffer dog and what would have been ten minutes on the side of the road now turns into more than an hour. To really search a car on a drug interdiction you have to damn well disassemble the vehicle. Essentially, trying assert to your alpha dominance on somebody who has legal authority over you rarely ends well.
Like anything else in life, do a cost/benefit analysis. If you argue with a cop over not having to tell where you’re coming from or where you’re going, what do you get out of it? What is the advantage? You are going to be wasting more time. You may put up a You Tube video and a few people who hate cops will cheer for you and a whole bunch of people will say, “Boy, was the guy who did this video an ass.”
The cops don’t want to manufacture bad guys. Lord knows there are more of the real ones than the cops can handle. At the same time, if you are hostile to the officer, you are arousing the officer’s suspicion. The more of that you do, the more probable cause you are creating. The officer does have the right to search you and any part of the vehicle that is within your immediate reach without a warrant, which we don’t do 99 percent of the time.
eJournal: People worry about being searched without a valid reason, and I have to wonder how much of the prevention is in our tone of voice and demeanor long before the suspicion that leads to the search arises.
Ayoob: Unusual hostility is an aberration of the norm. We now have aberrant behavior plus the firearm and now we are starting to get to where there’s probable cause for a warrant. You are not doing yourself a favor at all doing that show-off stuff for the cops.
eJournal: It would be a lot better to prevent hostility before it ever approached that level! Let’s say that an armed citizen feels the animosity increasing and wants to deescalate. What’s the most productive strategy if the goal is to complete the contact quickly and safely, get on down the road and if there’s a complaint, take it to the right authority?
Ayoob: The easiest way to move it down the road is to look the officer right in the eye, be calm, be friendly, be polite and smile. Voice follows voice; expression follows expression. If the other person is speaking to you snappily, if you speak a little bit more slowly, a little bit more quietly, generally, their speech will slow down, their elevation of voice will drop and probably their blood pressure will go down, too. That tends to calm the situation.
One thing I found over the years, and I hope the other cops don’t mind me giving this away, we talked earlier about how you may get the litmus test question, “Mr./Ms. Motorist, do you know why I stopped you?” If the answer is, “Officer, when I saw your lights come on in my rear view, I looked down at my speedometer. I had no idea I was going that fast! You got me.” The officer generally will be so refreshed by your honesty that if he or she can possibly do it, they will cut you loose with just a verbal warning. People treat others the way they are treated. Each of us is a reflection of how we are treated or how we perceive ourselves to be perceived by others. I’ve found generally that being polite, cordial and smiling at the officer simply works wonders.
eJournal: When you were on patrol, what situations with good people made you concerned and afterward you would shake your head and say, “Wow, I started to get a little scared there.”
Ayoob: People who tend to stammer when you ask them a question; people who won’t meet your eyes when you look at them. It’s human nature to take that as signs of deception. When your job is to find out who out there is doing bad things, picking up deception signals does make the contact more negative.
If you’re buying a gun at the gun show and the guy starts out by telling you, “This particular Glock retails for $995” when you know damn well it retails for $400 less than that, your bullshit alert goes off and you mistrust that person. If you start bullshitting or stonewalling the cop, the same effect is going to happen. They will not feel positively toward you and things will start going downhill. They’ll wonder, “What else is he lying about? Why does this person feel he needs to lie to a policeman?”
eJournal: Earlier you mentioned ride-alongs and citizens’ academies. I realize not everyone gets the chance to participate in a citizen’s police academy which can be an enormous commitment of time but for those who may be able, do you think those programs are worthwhile?
Ayoob: I think they are very much worthwhile because of the insight they give. You and I know once you have become a teacher you will then become a much better student. Once you know both sides of being a cop, you will then become a much better citizen when interacting with cops.
eJournal: Thank you for a great discussion showing us how we may inadvertently cause problems for ourselves during contact with police.
Massad Ayoob is author of Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self Defense which is distributed in the member education package for all Network members. He has additionally authored several dozen books and hundreds of articles on firearms, self defense and related topics. Since 1979, he has received judicial recognition as an expert witness for the courts in weapons and shooting cases, and was a fully sworn and empowered, part time police officer for over forty years at ranks from patrolman through captain. Ayoob founded the Lethal Force Institute in 1981 and served as its director until 2009, and now trains through Massad Ayoob Group. Learn more at https://massadayoobgroup.com .
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