PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Whether it’s a suspect takedown or a routine traffic stop, there are risks associated with any situation where a police officer pulls over a motorist.
The Windsor, Virginia police department is currently under investigation for a traffic stop in December in which two officers pulled their weapons on a U.S. Army officer whose license plate was not visible when he was spotted on a dark road.
One officer involved has been fired, but the Windsor chief is standing behind a second officer involved in the stop.
Days after the video of the Windsor traffic stop went viral, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer after Wright resisted arrest after he was stopped for an expired license plate.
Some veteran police officers in Hampton Roads say the two cases underscore what they teach young officers and what they hope citizens, especially young people, will learn as both cases remain under investigation.
“De-escalation is a two-way street; both parties need to learn how to talk to one another and not at one another,” said Chesapeake Police Chief Kelvin Wright.
Officers are trained on how to tamp down tensions before a stop turns violent.
A veteran officer in Norfolk says the side of a road is the wrong forum to present a protest about being pulled over.
“There’s always a way to lodge a formal complaint or have a supervisor respond to the scene. We also have body-worn cameras so all our actions on the streets are recorded,” said Capt. Renato Aponte of the Norfolk Police Department’s Community Affairs Section.
Aponte says on both sides of a traffic stop, what often makes a difference is not what you know but whom you know when young people are pulled over.
“So, it’s a partnership with the family, training our kids on what to do to keep them safe, and also the police department. So, when they come in contact with us, it’s not the first time they have seen us,” said Aponte.
Over the years, Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone has launched a number of community-based programs designed to build relationships with youngsters, their parents, and members of the community. The programs include Five-0 and fades, a barbershop-based program, and a Norfolk police ice cream truck that pulls kids over for a sweet cause.
And yes, Aponte says there are officers across the country who are capable of causing more harm than good.
“What I tell anyone in the [police] academy or your officers alike, you have to be in this for the right reasons and if you are here to serve people and make tomorrow better, then this is the job for you. I’ve been involved in a lot of arrests and a lot of investigations. To be able to save a youth from going down the wrong path — whether that be incarceration or maybe even death — for me, that’s the biggest success story,” Aponte said.
Wright says when a traffic stop turns violent, the officer “owns” part of the problem.
“You try to set the tone as well remain calm [and the citizen] remain compliant. We also teach our officers as well that they own the encounter and they need to set the tone as well,” said Wright.
To foster police accountability, the new community policing law in Virginia requires local law enforcement agencies to collect and report a list of information during a traffic stop to include race, ethnicity, age, and gender, and why the person was stopped.
That information must be turned over to the state and made available to the public.