Pistol Protocol

Joe Doakes emailed me this request:

The case is over.  The next one hasn’t happened, yet.   This is the time to restart the conversation about the Pistol Protocol. Please run this letter on SITD.
Joe Doakes

So here is the letter:

Open letter to politicians, cops, citizens:

I write to enlist your support for law-abiding citizens.

The recent Falcon Heights shooting occurred two miles from my house.  I have a permit to carry a pistol, same as the driver. The cop was acquitted and social media is howling it’s a racial outrage but I’m not interested in who’s to blame in this specific incident.  I’m only interesting in making sure it doesn’t happen to me.

The evidence at trial boiled down to this:  the officer thought he gave a command which the driver failed to obey.  The eye-witness passenger thought the officer gave a different command which the driver was in the midst of obeying when the officer fired.  Neither the officer nor the eye-witness had time to think up a lie to pad the video to make themselves look better for a jury.  They both believed they were telling the truth as they heard it.  It’s a classic case of eye-witnesses recalling identical events differently.

I don’t want to die and the officer doesn’t want to kill me.  How can we work together to make certain that doesn’t happen?  Police have standard procedures for high-speed pursuit, for approaching a stopped vehicle, but apparently there is no standard procedure for Encountering A Lawfully Armed Citizen.  The advice I got in my permit-to-carry training was: “inform the officer you have a pistol and ask how he wants to handle it” which is another way of saying “There are no rules, the officer will make up something on the side of the road, but if you fail to comply, you die.”  That’s not good enough.  The driver might not hear clearly because of a crying kid or complaining passenger.  The office might not hear clearly because of traffic noise.  And instructions can be misinterpreted with deadly results.

The Falcon Heights incident is a vivid illustration of why the current make-shift policy is not good enough, why there must be a standard Pistol Protocol for officers and permitted carriers to know and understand, and why the high-stakes nature of an armed encounter demands the Pistol Protocol be stupid simple to understand and yet crystal clear to follow.

I think permit holders and law enforcement leaders should meet to negotiate a standard Pistol Protocol, add it to every law enforcement curriculum and role-play it in every permit-to-carry training session.   Here’s a draft:

Step 1.  Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) approaches stopped vehicle, Permit Holder (PH) rolls down window, puts hands on the steering wheel and keeps them there.  No other movement.

Step 2.  PH says “Officer, we need the Pistol Protocol. I have a permit to carry a pistol.”  PH says or does nothing else until PH receives verbal confirmation from LEO that the Pistol Protocol is in place.  If LEO fails to confirm, PH repeats the request for the Pistol Protocol.

Step 3.  LEO repeats back that PH wants to use the Pistol Protocol, thus verifying that the officer is aware of the existence of a legally permitted weapon and that a dialogue has begun about how to secure the weapon.  LEO says or does nothing else until he confirms that the Pistol Protocol is in place.  “I confirm you have a pistol and a permit to carry.  We are now using the Pistol Protocol.”

Step 4.  LEO instructs PH as to the next thing the LEO wants the PH to do so the LEO can secure the weapon.  Could be “move your car to a safer location” or “open the door using your left hand and step out” or whatever the situation requires, taking into account lighting, weather, number of passengers, etc.  Whatever LEO instructs, PH repeats back before doing it, LEO affirms or negates (followed by repeat of intended instruction).    “LEO:  Using your right hand, slowly turn the engine off, then put your hand back on the wheel.”  “PH: I’m going to use my right hand to turn the engine off, then put my hand back on the wheel.”  “LEO: that’s correct, go ahead.”  At that point, the driver turns the engine off and puts his hand back on the wheel. 

Step 5.  PH, moving slowly as LEO watches, carries out all LEO instructions until LEO announces the pistol is secure.

Step 6.  When LEO announces the pistol is secure, the Pistol Protocol is not ended, it is in recess.  LEO instructs PH what else to do (driver’s license, proof of insurance) and writes summons or gives a warning to complete their other business.

Step 7.  When LEO is finished with other business, LEO tells PH that LEO is restarting the Pistol Protocol to safely transfer the pistol back to the PH but LEO does not transfer the pistol until PH confirms that LEO has restarted the Pistol Protocol.  “LEO:  I’m restarting the Pistol Protocol to hand the weapon back to you.”  “PH: We’re back using the Pistol Protocol now.” 

Step 8.  LEO tells PH what LEO intends to do with the pistol, PH repeats it back, then LEO and PH slowly and carefully transfer the pistol back to the PH.  “LEO: I’m going to hand you the magazine to put in your pocket, then the weapon to put in your holster.  Do NOT load the weapon until you have left the scene.”  “PH: You’re going to hand me the magazine to put in my pocket and the pistol to put in my holster, but I won’t load the weapon until after I leave here.”  “LEO, okay, here’s the magazine . . . pocket, good . . . and here’s the pistol.”

Step 9.  LEO and PH go their separate ways.
There could be fewer steps, more steps, enhancements and improvements, but the key elements are (1) both LEO and PH affirmatively and verbally acknowledging the existence of the pistol so they can deal with it safely and (2) both LEO and PH read-back instructions to avoid misunderstanding, before any movement takes place.
This draft is not perfect but it’s good enough to be going forward.  Next step, figuring out how to get pistol carriers and cops on board.  Volunteers are needed to negotiate in good faith.  And salesmanship to convince cops and permit holders that it’s something they need to learn.
Could use a catchy phrase to help people remember.  The fire prevention people hit a home run with “Stop, Drop and Roll.”  How about:

Say It.  Repeat It.  Do It.  

Tell me.  Hear me.  See me.

Listen.  Repeat.  Comply. 

I work for the local government bureaucracy.  My bosses are sensitive to political pressure and controversy.  I can’t speak out in my own name so I’m writing this under an assumed name to ask for help. 

If you see merit in the idea, please take the ball and run with it.  If it’s not your cup of tea, can you forward it to someone who might help?

The tragedy in Falcon Heights ruined several lives.  There is absolutely no reason to ruin more.  Help me prevent that.


Joe Doakes, Saint Paul, Minnesota

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14 thoughts on “Pistol Protocol

  1. I wouldn’t count on the permit holder being reliable enough to follow a protocol. Castile was stoned on pot when he was shot. Yanez told him forcefully not to pull “it” out. Whether that meant weapon or wallet is immaterial. Castile didn’t follow the command and Yanez followed his training. Tragic ending certainly. I believe the verdict was correct. Now will follow the inevitable civil trial and possibly a Federal civil rights case. Nobody wins.

  2. I am in the Bloomington Noon Rotary with Chief of Police, Jeff Potts. I’ll see if I can chat with him about the procedures that his people use. Based on how professional that force is and since their jurisdiction includes Hugedale, I would be surprised if they didn’t already have something in place for these situations.

  3. Bosshoss – the issue is NOT whether any individual police agency has a protocol – some do. The issue is that there isn’t a standard across the state on how it is supposed to work.

    We got preemption to fix the issue of patchwork gun regulations – why shouldn’t permit holders also have some certainty on how a LEO will handle their interaction?

    The MN POST Board has “model policies” on a wide range of subjects that most of the law enforcement agencies adopt and use – they should have one for interactions with a permit holder too!

  4. Makes sense. Hope something like this goes viral and gets implemented across the whole country.

    BTW, do you think the author is a Who fan?

  5. I’m not so sure that a Pistol Protocol should include ANYONE touching their gun. The idea of a PH removing and handing over their pistol is, to me, fraught with danger for both LEO and PH.

    I think the following points might be safer for everyone..
    1. Everyone agrees to keep hands away from guns
    2. PH informs the officer exactly where the gun is, so there is no question about what PH is or isn’t reaching for.
    3. LEO directs PH to produce license/reg which the PH acknowledges including the location of said documents
    4. Everyone moves slowly and confirms intentions, similar to Joe’s scenario.

  6. I’m with golfdoc here; I’m all in favor of a statewide, even nationwide protocol for permit holders in traffic stops. I just am not certain that Philando Castile would be alive today if there had been one. Drugs can do weird things in these kind of events.

  7. I would have thought some of this would already be police protocol, sans the person repeating back instructions. Since people seem to support the idea that Castile did what they tell you in permit class, would a expert witness of a permit instructor been helpful? As far as Castile’s ability to follow a protocol, we don’t know. But, from the testimonies that I read, it seems even Yanez’s partner read the situation differently than Yanez. And while he ultimately was testifying in support of Yanez, seemed to hint that he was surprised when Castile was shot.

  8. I am still undecided about the whole incident. Without body camera footage it’s very difficult to determine exactly what went down with so many shifting and conflicting stories and an inconclusive dash cam video, so it’s difficult for me to see that the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard was met for conviction. That said, I do believe that it’s likely a “preponderance of the evidence” standard was met and I wouldn’t like to be in Falcon Heights’ shoes in the inevitable civil action. Nor would I care much for Yanez’s law enforcement career prospects these days.

    Overall, though, I agree with JD: we need to come to a conclusion as to how gun related stops are handled, especially for CCW permitees. It was/is bad enough trying to drive across idiot states such as MA with properly secured guns and cops that don’t know Federal transport regs that I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to handle an incident when so many different protocols exist across the country. Can you imagine how crazy traffic stops would be if the protocol for a stop differed dramatically from state to state? Do you pull off immediately in Georgia but head to the next exit in Florida? Do you exit the car with hands up in Minnesota but stay in the car in Wisconsin? Some clarity and uniformity at the state and national level is really required.

  9. JD, I really appreciate your take on the policy steps you suggest that could be standardized in the effort to avoid another needless lethal encounter.

    As I watched the video it struck me that the PH could have been instructed to keep his hands on the steering wheel. The second officer on the scene could have instructed the passenger to get out of the vehicle. That officer could have secured the weapon and the rest of the discourse could have continued. I believe the whole thing was completely avoidable. I also think Yanez should never be allowed to serve as a police officer again.

  10. Scott,

    Yanez is probably done in law enforcement, at least in MN. He may be able to go to another state after a while or he could go to a private security contractor like Blackwater.

    I can only imagine what his life will be like going forward, having to live with this.

  11. I appreciate the kind comments.

    The reason I think read-back is critical to an interactive policy is because of my long-ago experience as a student pilot. When the control tower says “636 Echo Victor, cross at midfield, make left traffic, clear touch-and-go, make right traffic,” they don’t want to HOPE you understand, they want to KNOW you understand because lives are at stake.

    The reason you read back “Scottsdale Tower, 636 Echo Victor, cross at midfield, make left traffic, clear touch-and-go, make left traffic,” is so they can say “NO, idiot! After the touch-and-go, make RIGHT traffic, go the OTHER way around.” Read-back sounds silly but it’s the simplest and most certain way for both sides to confirm they know what they’re supposed to do.

    “Don’t reach for it” is ambiguous. Don’t reach for what? The gun? Or the wallet in the pocket under the gun? You just told me to reach for something, now you’re telling me not to? What am I supposed . . . bang, bang, bang.

    It occurs to me that I left out one player on my list of addressees – insurance companies. They’re the ones paying for the litigation and any eventual settlement. They ought to be pushing procedures to reduce the risk.

  12. So if someone doesn’t announce they are carrying, will they be held responsible for any injury or death that results?

    Here in MN, I don’t have to tell cops anything about if I’m carrying or not until they explicitly ask (624.714 subd 1b). Further, cops aren’t allowed to disarm one of their arms unless they have a reasonable belief that it is immediately necessary for the safety of themselves or others (624.7192b).

    To suggest an armed driver being pulled over for a minor traffic violation qualifies as a condition for disarmament is laughable. I would even go so far to suggest that if a cop were using this draft policy, they would be acting outside the law.

    Unless these laws are changed, such a draft policy will only muddy the waters.

  13. My only comment is, please Mr police officer, do not fiddle with my weapon, do not attempt to unload it. There are too many different pistols on the market and they do not all operate the same. The less you handle a loaded weapon, with which you are unfamiliar, the less likely both of us will experience an accidental discharge.

    The unloading of my weapon is something that you need to focus on, to ensure that the weapon is always pointed in a safe direction, that your finger remains away from the trigger, and it requires 2 hands to remove the round in the chamber. For you to unload my weapon, you must necessarily take your focus away from me. So don’t attempt to unload my weapon.

    So, keeping your fingers away from the trigger, place my weapon someplace away from reach during our interaction, if it worries you, although, statistically, it should not. Then when our interaction is over, return the weapon to me, or place it on the floor of the vehicle.

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