WILMINGTON — With the mission to proactively build police and youth relations, the second of three sessions in a United Way of Clinton County Law Enforcement Outreach program was held Friday in U.S. history classes at Wilmington High School.
The hope is that police and youth both learn about the other during the sessions, and in the process tension is decreased and decision making enhanced.
United Way of Clinton County Executive Director Amanda Harrison said the Law Enforcement Outreach program is currently planned for Clinton-Massie as well.
In the first-period class, Wilmington Police Chief Ron Cravens and a 10th-grade student played their own real-life roles in a sample traffic stop situation. It’s normal for motorists to feel some anxiety when pulled over by police, Cravens noted.
And on the police side of the traffic stop, the officer can experience anxiety too because they don’t know what the driver may have in the vehicle, he said.
Cravens, who began his law enforcement career with WPD in 2001, said he has found a lot of firearms in vehicles, and a lot of weapons such as knives in the side pocket of car doors.
To address the motorist’s nerves, Cravens said what he likes to do is to break the ice with a “how are you doing today” to make the driver more comfortable. He acknowledged that this goal and the reality don’t always match.
“A lot of times for us, we have to get in, get the job done, … So, what you guys probably hear sounds a lot different than what we’re intending you to hear, OK?” the chief said.
A student inquired whether Cravens asks if there are weapons in the car when he conducts a traffic stop. He answered “sometimes, it all depends,” adding a lot of times it depends on what vibe he is getting.
After referring to two very recent shootings of African Americans by police in Minneapolis and Chicago, Cravens said “we need to step up law enforcement training.”
During both the first- and second-period classes, Cravens spoke in some detail about the fatal shooting in Minneapolis of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by a 26-year veteran of law enforcement, who according to body cam audio apparently intended to use her Taser on Wright but fired her handgun instead.
Cravens said police were going to handcuff Wright on an active warrant for failing to appear in court for an armed robbery charge, after the vehicle initially was stopped reportedly for an expired car registration.
Cravens said the body camera shows Wright complying with police until they go to handcuff him and he jumps back in toward the motor vehicle.
“You see he’s complying, and then he breaks off and goes back into the car. For us, our training says that’s all bad,” Cravens said.
Between classes Cravens told the News Journal, “It’s one of those things that would have been avoidable. More than likely, the worst case scenario for him [Wright] is that he would have gone to jail, he would have got a bond, and he would have been out to enjoy his life. And because of his actions and the officer’s mis-actions, now we have two lives, two families and a network of people whose lives are going to be altered, destroyed, or changed in a dramatic way.
“And it just fuels the narrative that the cops are out to shoot people, and we’re honestly not. We’re here to help people, we’re here to protect people. But it’s always better to comply. Because he could have fought the case in court and possibly won. Why did he avoid arrest? Why did he jump back into the car? And why wasn’t the officer trained better to recognize the difference between a Taser and a firearm?” said the chief.
Cravens also offered tips to students as part of the Outreach program.
To address motorists’ anxiety during a traffic stop, Cravens recommended remembering to breathe, actively listen, and communicating with the officer.
If you’re breathing and getting oxygen to your brain, you are going to be able to communicate with law enforcement more effectively, said Cravens.
“You’re less likely to make rash decisions, because your brain is being able to process [things],” Cravens said.
In talking about reform in law enforcement, Cravens said we need to look at how police are trained and what is being trained, and also citizens’ behavior when interacting with police.
His advice: “You’re your best witness. Remember that. Do not ruin your credibility because of your actions or your behavior, OK? Comply and take it to court.”
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.