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