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VMC Reports: Teen Drivers and Police Speak Out about Traffic Stops and Safety

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Tired of seeing videos of police officers killing black drivers and scared that it could happen to us, the day after the not-guilty verdict in the case of Philando Castile’s death we decided enough is enough.

So we reached out to Atlanta, DeKalb and Fulton County police departments to invite their professional experience and training in what to do during traffic stops.

On June 26, Officer R.S. Pittman-Delancey, a Fulton County police officer and crime prevention specialist, arrived at VOX Media Cafe for an interview about interactions with the police. He provided honest answers that will be great information for teen drivers. Corporal Pittman-Delancey, who has worked as a police officer for the best part of 28 years, described in great depth the routine for pulling over a driver. He also described what passengers and drivers can do to make the process easier for both parties.

After receiving this useful information, our VOX Media Cafe reporting team went out on the streets of downtown Atlanta and conducted phone interviews to ask teens and parents about what they do when they are pulled over.

Some teens shared that they have never had a conversation with their parents about what to do when pulled over by the police. However, Quincey Jean-Louis, 16 who attends Jonesboro High School, said he had gotten tips from his parents: He doesn’t make any sudden movements and avoids wearing snapback hats.

Lauryn Adams, 17, said she keeps her “hands visible” and doesn’t “talk back” to the police during a traffic stop.

Even teens who didn’t have conversations with their parents seemed to share one tip as common knowledge: be respectful. For example, Sydney Inman, a 18-year old visiting Atlanta for a mission trip, said she remains respectful of officers, “even if they aren’t the nicest.”

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Overall, we have detected in our interviews that today’s teens try their best to control their emotions and stay safe.

Searching for more answers, we also interviewed two mothers of young people who drive. One mother in particular, Mary Garrett, who lives in Greer, South Carolina, has a brother who is a member of the New York Police Department and said, “He trained me to train them,” referring to conversations with her children about police traffic stops.

Beth Banks, who lives in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, said she reminds her children, “If the police officer asks [them] to do something, that’s what [they] are supposed to do.”

It was incredibly interesting to gather feedback from a parent’s point of view. They will do whatever they can to ensure their children’s safety while interacting with the police.

After understanding both the police’s point of view, as well as the teens’ and parents’ perspectives, we learned that, ultimately, both parties want to go about their business safely. They both want to continue to live and thoroughly enjoy life. A single traffic stop shouldn’t have to change that right.

We hope teens will have this conversation with their parents. We have realized that teens should be as honest and transparent as possible. Roll down all the windows. Turn all dome lights on. Be respectful no matter what. Do all of these things because life is precious, and a few short minutes can make a huge difference. Or, in the words of Corporal Pittman-Delancey, “follow instructions from the police officers and be safe.”

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