With the backdrop of several high-profile fatal shootings by — and of — police officers across the nation in recent weeks, the Hinesville Police Department hosted a brief workshop to let people know how to respond during a traffic stop.
It was held at First Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Hinesville. Members of the congregation were invited to attend the Wednesday evening event.
Cpl. James Williams, the Hinesville Police Department’s crime prevention officer, said in an interview after the workshop that the key for someone who is stopped is to be respectful during any interaction with a police officer.
“All we ask is that when we conduct traffic stops, is that you just comply and follow the directions of what the officer is giving you,” he said. “If the officer is asking for your driver’s license, there shouldn’t be a confrontation at all with the officer.”
If you need to reach into your glove compartment to retrieve your driver’s license or other materials, Williams said, “Just ask.”
“Officer, my driver’s license is in the glove compartment, can I get it in the glove compartment?” he said as an example of what to ask. “And the officer will answer back, ‘Yes, go ahead.’ But if you’re fishing around and you’re being very evasive, you’re probably going to get yourself in some serious trouble with the officer during that traffic stop.”
A July 6 traffic stop in St. Anthony, Minnesota, that ended with the fatal shooting of Philando Castile is on the minds of many across the nation. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, said during a Facebook live-stream video of the aftermath of the shooting that Castile told the officer, identified in media reports as Jeronimo Yanez, that he was licensed to carry a firearm and was reaching for his license when Yanez shot him.
Williams described what might happen if someone who is stopped by Hinesville police legally had a weapon in the vehicle.
“We just ask that you keep your hands where we can see them and it’s visible,” he said. “And if you have a weapon in the vehicle, notify the officer immediately. And then there’s other procedures that we can go through as far as having the person that we’re stopping in the traffic stop to step out of the vehicle and step to the side, or wait until we have another officer that’s present before we ask for the license and everything. … That’s to keep both of us safe, and that traffic stop can be done, signed, and you go on your way.”
During the workshop, several audience members asked questions about what they should do during different types of interactions with law-enforcement officers. Some expressed concerns about the way they have been treated by officers.
Hinesville resident Jakarion Williams, 18, attended the workshop, but he did not share those concerns.
“What I got out of (the workshop) is just, be respectful to police officers, do what they say, and you won’t get in trouble,” he said in an interview after the event.
For anyone who was not at the workshop, Williams said, “I would just tell them just to follow the rules. They probably won’t get arrested.”
He said he does not drive yet, and he has not had any interactions with law enforcement. Williams was also asked what it is like to be an 18-year-old black man in Hinesville.
“It has its ups and downs, but overall, it’s fine,” he said.
Asked to sum up the workshop, Williams said, “Black lives matter, or all lives matter. And just follow rules of police officers, and you’ll be OK.”
Cpl. Williams said traffic stops are not just tense for those who are stopped, but also for officers conducting the stop. He said that for officers, the tension when starting a traffic stop is a 10 on a scale of 1-10.
“You can run up on someone who just wants to kill an officer, or you have that one that is very scared and not know what to do,” he said. “So there’s different ways of interpreting. It’s very nerve-wracking for the officer because you never know.”