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Stories, favorites and great
As a police officer, what is the kindest thing a suspect ever said to you?

By: John Sharp, Police Captain (1993-present)

Over the years, there have been several people (suspects, offenders, witnesses, victims, etc.) who have said kind things to me. One that comes to mind is probably the most recent.

As a captain, I’m not often out on patrol and I make very few traffic stops. A few weeks ago however, I saw a vehicle traveling the wrong direction in a traffic circle. Given the danger presented, I stopped the motorist and saw the vehicle was driven by a tiny African American lady of about 65 (I am a not so tiny 55-year-old Caucasian man), and she was confused and upset by the unfamiliar traffic control device into which she had driven.

I helped get her turned around and pulled to the side of the road where we were both safe. Pursuant to Department policy, I asked her for her license, registration and proof of insurance. She paused a moment and then started looking through her purse, center console and glove compartment for the requested documentation.

Based on my experience, this suggested to me she did not have one or more of the documents I had asked her to produce. I asked her if she had a driver’s license and she admitted her license was suspended.

I couldn’t help but notice tears welling up in her eyes. I had already noticed her license plate was expired, as was her motor vehicle inspection sticker. I then asked if her automobile was insured, and she told me it was not.

In my jurisdiction, unless there are exigent circumstances, a vehicle found to be uninsured is to be towed and impounded. In addition, a motorist found to be driving under suspension may, at the officer's discretion, be arrested, and should not be permitted to drive away from the traffic stop absent exigent circumstances which mitigate against preventing the motorist from driving any further.

The lady had tears streaming down her cheeks, knowing she had a problem. She was wearing a business outfit, so I asked her where she was going, thinking I might be able to drop her off if time was a problem. She explained the previous week, she was hired by a local hospital and that day was to be her first at her new job.

She explained she had lost her home and job in August of 2016 when our area suffered through the worst flood to affect the area in modern history. Approximately 80% of the homes and businesses in our area flooded during the event. Many had never flooded before, were not in flood zones and consequently, many families and businesses were left with nothing, following the inundation. This lady was one of those.

She understood she was in trouble, and she understood despite her good intentions, she was breaking the law. But there was no anger or bitterness. In her face, I saw only resolve and determination.

She never once suggested she deserved a break. She didn’t hint at leniency. She expressed no self-pity and did not seek to shift the blame.

While I may not have shown it, I was very impressed with the way she was handling the experience.

I told the lady, whom I’ll call Ms. Smith, to have a seat in her car, turn on her air conditioner (it was about 95), and I would be back with her as quickly as possible. I then returned to my unit and checked her registration and driver’s license. I determined her license was suspended due to her inability to honor a payment plan with the DMV she had reached to resolve fines assessed to her when her insurance lapsed.

She was uninsured; her history showed over the last several years, her insurance lapsed several times, She always managed to have her insurance reinstated but administrative fees had built up over time. Her registration had expired two months earlier. However, with a suspended driver’s license, she could not renew her registration or obtain an updated motor vehicle inspection sticker.

Clearly, she was in a vicious spiral and putting her in jail or doing anything to cost her her new job would not be helpful.

I carefully considered my options, recognizing my obligation to protect and serve includes keeping people without mandatory liability insurance off of the road. Her failure to have the required insurance presented a problem for me. Under our law, were she to have an at-fault accident and it was discovered I had stopped her and failed to take the appropriate action, I could be held responsible.

If I towed her car, she would likely lose her new job which was going to pay her enough to get required insurance, take care of her suspended driver’s license and generally make her life better for the first time in two years.

As I sat there considering what to do, I suddenly remembered something. I got out of my unit, walked up to car and looked in the back seat. There, behind the front passenger seat was a rear-facing baby seat, buckled snuggly into place.

“I meant to ask you about the baby seat,” I told her.

“Oh,” she replied. “That’s for my grand baby,” she told me. “I take her to day care each morning so my daughter can make it to nursing school on time. This is our only car.”

“Do they live with you all the time.” I asked.

“Yes, sir! They’re my best friends,” she said with a smile.

I thanked her and returned to my unit. I smiled too, and thought to myself, “Exigent circumstances! Can’t tow that car if there are exigent circumstances.”

I prepared the lady a citation for driving under suspension. I hated to do it, but the only discretion we have in such cases is jail or a misdemeanor summons. I did, however, exercise my discretion and prepared a warning for the expired driver’s license and expired vehicle inspection sticker.

I then made a quick phone call before walking back to her car, ticket book in hand. As the little lady waited to hear her fate, I began. “OK, Ms. Smith, here is where we are,” I told her.

“I have to issue you a citation for driving under suspension. I have no choice. However, you’re not being arrested, only fined.”

She asked me how much the fine would be and I told her I did not know, but I had called the Clerk of Court, asked that they let her pay over a period of six months, and they agreed. I then handed her the citation and asked her to sign where indicated.

She signed and then remembered the other charges. “Is there another ticket,” she asked?

“No Ma’am,” I told her. “Apparently, I am out of tickets and don’t have time to go and get some more.”

She seemed confused and asked, “I know you have to tow my car, Captain. I was just wondering if there is any way you can let me get to work first. I can park it around back where nobody will see it and you can tow it from there, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“Well, Ms Smith, it looks like your car isn’t going to be towed today. As it turns out, there are exigent circumstances to allow me to let you keep your car. But you have to get insurance within 30 days.”

She didn’t understand, so I explained since there is an infant in their house, since they had only one car, and since that car was the child’s sole means of transportation to day care, such a situation created exigent circumstances which allowed me to decline to tow the car, provided I had a reasonable belief required insurance would be obtained within 30 days.

She assured me they would get the insurance they needed.

I wished her good luck and told her to be safe and I turned around to walk back to my unit as tears started rolling down her cheeks again. Before I could walk away, however, Ms. Smith called out to me, “Captain Sharp!”

I turned back to her. “I don’t know if you’re allowed or not, but would it be OK if I gave you a hug?”

I told her I would love a hug, and it was the best hug of the day.

I’m sorry it took so long to answer your question, but, “Would it be OK if I gave you a hug?” was one of the kindest things a suspect ever said to me. Thank you for your question!

  #EZ.37735 Exp 07-02
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