My left hand turn produced lights and sirens. While pulling over, a question from the morning's meeting haunted, "Are you still afraid of the police?"
I fear what I do not understand; the chaplaincy has helped me understand traffic stops. I've learned the importance of first impressions; an officer and driver are often strangers and first impressions matter.
After pulling over, I took a page from an officer's playbook and placed all ten fingers flat against the driver side door panel. The gesture, said my law enforcement friend, communicates, "I'm showing you my hands so you know I mean you no harm."
Often, citizen's police academies give graduates souvenir plastic sleeves with a departmental logo. Front-loading vehicular registration and proof of insurance in the sleeve before presenting, logo side up, may make a first impression. Involuntarily, the officer may see the presenting driver as "blue" or less of a threat.
I had a sleeve.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, the gentleman with whom I'd just eaten called as I was pulling over. I put him on speakerphone and asked him to stay on the line during the traffic stop. He introduced himself before quietly listening to the entire conversation. Adding a witness, beyond the reach of the officer, was God's unexpected gift to me. A set of empathic ears - the caller knew my historic fear of police - listening to the exchange comforted me.
Most of the telemarketing calls I receive are ignored, but one kind gets my attention: police support funds. For a small donation, the organization sends a decal. When giving by check, a self-addressed envelope is mailed and reputable solicitors include a sticker. Placing the sticker on the driver's side window, rolling down the window and conversing with the sticker at eye level may communicate an, "I'm for you, not against you," message to the officer.
A sticker was in place.
A plastic sleeve, decal and eavesdropping prayer partner did not change the fact that I made an illegal left turn. As a state trooper crept by to beef up security, I was reminded just who was in charge. Witnessing hundreds of traffic stops while riding along has helped me with my fear. Nevertheless a fear of unknown outcomes from police encounters still exists.
"Good morning officer."
"Good morning. My name is Officer Riggins*. I stopped you today for an illegal left turn."
"Thank you, Officer, for your attention to a detail I overlooked."
"Sure. License and registration please."
Our initial exchange was less than sixty seconds. I had no time to prepare the sleeve, dial-a-witness, peel the decal or Google the ten finger thing. The Lord Jesus used people and circumstances to prepare me for a brief moment.
I received a warning, answered the officer's question about the sleeve and bowed my head with him while intercession purred through the speakerphone. The state trooper was given a thumbs up and disappeared as quickly as his SUV had appeared.
Later in the day, I spoke to another prayer partner about the traffic stop. "Are you still afraid of the police?" he queried. I fear what I do not understand.
I have learned how nervous off-duty officers are when they're stopped. While my fear of police has diminished, the volume of chotzskis in this post is telling.
I fear the Lord's calling on my life, more than I fear police officers. In this season, I am called to go toward police, and the citizens they serve, with the Good News that Jesus saves.
I just have to be more careful about signage as I go.
* Name changed to protect privacy