If I were the king of Homeland Security, I'd quickly make changes to the passive manner in which our citizenry is informed and educated on important security and safety issues. The governmental pamphlets and web sites aren't enough. An educated and attentive citizenry is very important and will allow people to behave in a more protective and self-sufficient manner.
In the 1960's, death rates on our roads had reached alarming levels. One method the government used to reduce the number of fatalities was an educational program which included a two hours television program on driver safety. It was highly promoted, watched and discussed by millions in the following days. Now we need these same type of broadcasts to address our modern safety issues. Since 2002, I've been critical of Homeland Security for not launching a series of television programs specifically addressing terrorism.
To accomplish that goal, I would create a series of two hour television programs which would air on primetime network television to explain what to expect and do during and after a terrorist attack. The series would cover details about the various type of attacks and provide strategic actions and options which would be of great help to you and your community.
But right off the top as the Homeland Security king, I see an even more urgent need to educate the people about what to expect during day-to-day interactions with law enforcement officers. Whether it be a simple traffic stop, a domestic dispute, mistaken identity or a day at the beach, knowing what is expected of you, knowing what is reasonable and what the lawful limits are, and how to protect your rights could go a long way to prevent an escalation involving force.
Most of us aren't familiar with our rights and that can get us into trouble. Many are now challenging officer's requests and orders. Interactions have become more confrontational and not always at the hands of the citizens. Trying to enforce a perceived but non-existent right, or a misunderstood right, can create a confrontation which could end badly. Law enforcement also cross the line too often, as cameras are now bearing testament to what folks have been complaining about for decades. So, even attempting to enforce one's lawful rights during an encounter can end badly.
The truth is both sides are fearful of the other to one degree or another. It's obvious that in recent years, problematic and troubling police encounters have taken cities to the point of crisis. We need to do something to decrease these fears before a major social upheaval takes place in multiples cities simultaneously across this country. It would be a true Homeland Security crisis and could even occur this summer.
Therefore, I would fast-track a television program explaining how citizens and law enforcement should behave during interactions. Federal and state governments, academic institutions, community-based organizations all need to participate in this venture as they did in the 1960's initiative to increase driver safety.
The program could present scenarios which demonstrate the "right" and "wrong" things that can happen during an interaction. For instance, do you know much about temporary detention and whether or not you are free to leave? How about being temporarily handcuffed when you have done nothing wrong? Police officers are required to know the difference between a legal and illegal choke hold but people still die.
There are many lessons which could be presented and discussed by panels during the program.
Here are the actions I prefer to take during a traffic stop. I pull off to the side, turn off my engine, turn on my interior light and place my hands on the dashboard or in plain sight. Don't start fishing around in your glove compartment for your registration. That can be interpreted in many ways including reaching for a handgun. I want the officer to be able to quickly ascertain that there is no immediate threat. I'll get my registration after I ask the officer if I can reach into the glove compartment to retrieve it. Then I will repeat that I'm about to reach into the glove compartment for the registration. That might seem like a lot of precautionary effort, but I'm not in a hurry to put myself at risk of harm.
I'm not stating that those actions be required, I believe people have options on how to ease tensions during a traffic stop. I urge that strategies for various encounters be discussed and taught. That is why both sides of the encounters need to participate in the national discussions and lessons. Hopefully we will all get closer to operating on the same page and that's one of peaceful and just outcomes. We better figure out how to do that and soon.