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...When They Come For You

Recently my attention was brought to an article in The Tech entitled “Student Arrested After Chase” [Dec. 11, 2000]. I am an acquaintance of the student, Ms. Bostick, who was arrested and I was also surprised to hear what had happened.

However, I was more alarmed by the safety tips given by Police Officer Clifford Connolly of the Boston Police. I’m not saying these safety tips are wrong. They are valid, but very insufficient; especially since we are talking about the New Jersey Turnpike which has been under scrutiny in recent years for racial profiling of motorists by law enforcement officers. I’m sure some of us remember the nationwide attention about the four minorities in the van on the NJ Turnpike who were pulled over. When their van began to roll backwards, the trooper fired 11 shots into the van injuring three of them. The Tech article includes a brief testimony from a native to the area about an officer convicted of illegal sexual acts and the fear some locals have for some of the officers. These are not small problems in New Jersey, and other areas for that matter. Officers do violate their own job guidelines and regulations.

So in following Officer Connolly’s safety tips, what should you do in the event that an officer may overreact or step outside of the guidelines and regulations of being a law enforcement officer? Suppose you are uncomfortable and decide you want to be escorted to a marked car or police station. Suppose you would like to see a badge? What should you do if the officer refuses? Some may say the officer won’t refuse, but this is true only if the officer is acting within the guidelines of what they are supposed to do. Officer Connolly states that if the officer refuses, you can drive yourself to the station and explain it. How do you do so without this being mistaken for driving off and how do you do this if you are not “free to leave” under law. What happens if an officer (or more than one officer) approaches the car with a gun drawn and/or demands that you get out of the car? Something I really could not quite understand is when the officer advises one to call 911 if they feel the person is not a real trooper. With what phone are you going to do this? Will the officer permit you to go to a pay phone or call box first to get verification before finishing writing the summons? Or will the officer allow you to reach for your cell phone, without mistaking the action as reaching for a weapon? Officer Connolly states that a marked car and a uniform and badge should be enough verification that that the officer is genuine, but once again, what happens if there is an abuse of power? Connolly states that if you drive off, the reason had better be good. What are examples of valid reasons? Is an officer’s misconduct a valid reason? Is being being alone and surrounded by several officers a reason to fear for your safety? I’m not disagreeing with the officer when he says you should not drive away. You absolutely should not drive away when pulled over by an officer. I do have a problem with the safety tips. They are one-sided and don’t take into account what threats are posed by possible wrongdoing on the part of the officer(s).

I write this letter earnestly, because I feel more citizens, no matter who they may be, should know what to do in situations like a traffic stop. These safety tips need a little more elaboration. They are a bit on the vague side.

William M. Morgan Jr.
MIT Class of ’00