To paraphrase John Oliver, the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” the good news is this won’t be like Algebra 101. Teenagers are actually going to use it in real life.
Texas Sen. John Whitmire will introduce legislation to mandate traffic-stop etiquette classes for 9th-grade students. In other words, the kids will be taught how to act when they’re pulled over by a cop – or, worst-case scenario, when they are arrested.
Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, said his legislation was part of an effort by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which he chairs, to “reduce the number of injuries and death to or by law enforcement officers.”
“That is so … depressing,” Oliver said, “especially when you realize that is probably the only class where nobody will raise their hand and say, ‘When are we ever going to use this?’”
So, that’s the good news: This will not be just another useless high school class that kids can be forgiven for sleeping through.
The bad news is that, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorialized, the kids have to be taught how to behave with a police officer in the first place.
“What a heartbreaking truth,” the Star-Telegram’s editorial board wrote. “The thought that we would have to use resources and teachers just to make sure students have the right tools to prevent a possible violent encounter should frustrate and appall Texans.”
Whitmire’s bill would require the State Board of Education to establish rules for a new curriculum section for high school freshmen on law enforcement duties and interaction. The bill is part of an effort to combat escalated situations between officers and civilians.
Whitmire told WOAI-AM that 9th graders have to learn how to behave, and most importantly, they need to be taught that in a confrontation with a police officer, they are not going to come out on top.
“It’s just that simple,” Whitmire said. “And I think a lot of young people are not being told that by their families.”
Too many teenagers, he said, don’t understand the rules and make it up as they go along the first time they have an encounter with law enforcement. Of course, peer pressure is also a factor.
He pointed to the case of Sandra Bland, who took her own life in a suburban Houston jail cell after being arrested during a traffic stop. Bland wound up in behind bars because she refused a DPS trooper’s order to extinguish her cigarette.
Whitmire said a police officer does have the right to tell you to put out a burning cigarette because it could be used as a weapon.
“If either one of those individuals would have taken a deep breath, de-escalated things,” Whitmire said. “She lost her life, unfortunately; he ruined his career.”
The trooper was fired and indicted on a misdemeanor charge of lying about what happened.
Whitmire has also called for more training and education for police officers.
“There is no home team or visiting team. We must all come together to develop the best strategies to improve relations and trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” said Whitmire. “Increased training and education for both peace officers and our students will help foster positive relations and interactions.”
The idea is not original.
Even if Whitmire’s bill wins final legislative approval, Texas won’t be the first state to make sure kids are taught how to deal with police before they learn how to drive a car.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signed legislation in August that requires instruction time in driver’s education classes be devoted to teaching students how to behave during a traffic stop.
“My hope is that if we uniformly require that driver’s education include the protocol and what is expected when you interact with a police officer that things will not escalate,” Sen. Julie Morrison (D), who sponsored the legislation, told Chicago’s ABC-7.
The Illinois Secretary of State’s Office will develop the instruction guidelines, with the goal of putting the new curriculum in place for the 2017-2018 school year.
The book “Drive Safe, Stop Safe” has been a part of the curriculum for driver’s education students for a decade in the Chicago Public Schools.
It was written by a retired Chicago cop, Eddie Chapman, who said he was inspired by the 1999 case of LaTanya Haggerty. She was shot and killed during a traffic stop that came at the end of a high-speed police chase.
Officers at the scene said Haggerty and her companion repeatedly escalated the situation by trying to run over police with their car, and then when they were stopped by refusing to raise their hands and get out of the car.
The Chicago Tribune reported the officer who fired the shot that killed Haggerty knelt next to the woman’s body, stroked her bloody hair and said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shoot you. I thought you had a gun.” She didn’t.
A police officer who was standing at the other side of the car said, at most, Haggerty might have been holding a cell phone.
“My idea,” Chapman said, “was to ensure that this doesn’t happen to my daughter or somebody else’s.”