Think A W A R E to Safely Handle Police Encounters

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Criminal Defense Attorney and former State Trooper, Randall F. Inniss, offers families a guideline for dealing with police encounters.

Released video surrounding Chicago Police Department incidents that follow questionable police shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and a string of other communities around the country have many alarmed. In an unspeakable reverse series of events, back-to-back ambush-style shootings targeting police have occurred in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The attacks are consistent with published accounts that fatal shootings of police officers have spiked this year. The result has both civilian and police populations on edge in seemingly unprecedented fashion.

Although progressive police departments offer special training programs to promote cultural sensitivity and understanding, would one know whether local officers have adopted or accepted such training? On the other hand, what level of understanding do communities have about law enforcement and how police set out to protect their neighborhoods? Should communities take more interest in police practices and procedures? The answer is a resounding YES.

It is the responsibility of both sides – civilian and police alike – to respect and understand each other; to take interest and become stakeholders. While no one-size-fits-all solution exists, communities can empower themselves by becoming more knowledgeable about their local police and common police practices. The following simple acronym A W A R E was created to help communities teach their families to safely handle a police encounter.

A - Assume nothing! Stay calm and do NOT assume to know why you were stopped. The police may have a more serious reason and your movements could cost you.

W - Wait for police instruction when approached or stopped and, if driving, do not leave the vehicle (unless instructed.) Keep hands visible at all times such as the steering wheel if in a car. Do not reach for anything before instructed.

A - Always comply. NEVER resist or run, even if arrested falsely. You will have your day in court.

R - Repeat the officer’s instructions before taking action. Ensure you heard correctly and that you’re both on the same page.

E - Explain to the officer what you will do before acting AND wait for approval (e.g., "I will reach into my right interior jacket pocket for my wallet, okay?” Wait for officer’s response before acting.)

Following these steps can help both sides get through a police encounter safely. Mutual respect is at the forefront; your attitude can make a difference! This is particularly crucial in a time where tensions between civilians and police alike may be elevated.

Randall F. Inniss is a criminal defense attorney and former state trooper whose legal practice, The Inniss Firm, focuses on state crimes and corporate investigations. During his 22-year law enforcement career, he held several leadership roles, last supervising a team of narcotics investigators. In the corporate sector, he served as the National Basketball Association's Senior Director of Security where his responsibilities, in part, included instructing professional athletes on police encounters. Randall holds an undergraduate degree from Binghamton University (Honors) and Juris Doctor and LL.M. (Masters of Law) degrees from the University at Buffalo School of Law.

The above article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Each police encounter is different and the circumstances of your individual stop might not be applicable to this article.

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