SHSU Police Department Compliance Officer Joe Thornton shares advice to college students when dealing with safety and law enforcement. Students can gain an understanding on how certain issues are addressed by university police.
H: How should students react when police ask to search their cars?
A: I have been in law enforcement for over 28 years now, and I believe most people know how they should react. You never have a problem with the reaction unless the traffic violator has done something criminal or feels guilty about the traffic violation. How would you react? Their reaction is based most often on how they were raised, and it really does not matter your age. When a driver is stopped by an officer, they inevitably react as they would when they were a child and caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Everyone either feels guilty or they resent you making them feel like they are bad people because the officer stopped them. It is a human issue, really. Experienced officers understand that. Civilized people control their emotions on how they are going to react to a given traffic stop and request for a search. You could write a whole book on this topic.
H: What characteristics lead police officers to search cars?
A: This is rather an ambiguous question. Is the driver acting nervously? Do you see evidence of criminal tools, or of a reported theft? Can the officer smell alcohol use? Drug use? Can they see the butt end of a gun sticking out of your console? Did something set off alarms to the officer in reference to a criminal history given by dispatch? The list is almost endless. And the search is the result of any or all of the previously mentioned possibilities and more. There is no pat answer to the question.
H: What do college-aged people normally get pulled over for and how do they typically react?
A: Typically, whether they are college-aged student or any other age, people get pulled over for traffic violations. That is normal in a college town, because people are bringing their driving habits from wherever they normally learned to drive. And every city forces development of different driving habits from large cities to small towns. Normally that traffic violation rests on the police officer’s observation of the person not wearing their seat belt, equipment defects, speeding, failure to stop at stop sign, etc. As far as reaction, for both men and women, it might be anything from anger to hysterical crying, begging behaviors, offers of bribes, or just calmly wanting to know why they were stopped. Again, it applies to everyone. Thank goodness for video cameras. While the officer may be caught when they act poorly on occasion, there is a majority of traffic stops that finds the violator acting poorly.
H: Ideally, how would police officers prefer to be responded to after issuing a ticket?
A: Every officer would like to be thought of as doing their duty in reference to traffic law, with the hope that a citation instead of a physical arrest will help reduce bad driving habits and save lives. Every experienced officer knows that is just not going to happen. Being respectful is that how you want to be treated, it is how you speak to an officer that can make an officer’s day. The officer knows that respectful behavior is often unlikely to happen after receiving a ticket. But one can hope.
H: How can students avoid getting parking tickets?
A: Actually, it involves simply following the rules laid out by the Parking Department. Those rules are supplied to everyone who gets a parking permit. Read the rules. Then follow them.
H: What draws suspicion to cars that get pulled over?
A: Traffic violations. Loud noise violations. Equipment violations.
H: What do you see as the biggest safety issue among college students?
A: Situational awareness, the same thing that applies to everyone. Which means you have to look at what is going around you. When you enter a building, a restaurant, a movie theatre, do you know where your exits are? Do you notice unusual behavior from anyone in the room before you sit down? How many people may be in front of you if you do need to exit in an emergency? Just as a hunter notices the wind, conditions of humidity, and an idea of how his prey may behave in the conditions that are occurring at that very moment, you need to act in the same manner wherever you may be. Once you have perceived what is in front of you, you must understand it, then plan for your response and execute it. With practice the process becomes faster. The greatest instrument of distraction I have observed on campus is a handheld device called a cellular phone. Keep it out of your hands when you are moving around, especially in a car, phone out of your hands. The only time it should be in your hands is if you perceive danger and your hand is set to press a button to call 911.
H: How should students keep safe when walking alone?
A: The answer is found in the previous questions, your perception of your environment, understanding that environment, and acting upon your understanding. The best bet is to stay in well- lit areas, using all your senses for scanning for your safety. On campus, you can add another pair of eyes with an escort that the police department can provide, or walk with a friend or friends. Numbers often spell safety.
H: What precautions should students take to keep safe when going out?
A: It is the same in nearly all situations. Buddy-up. Keep an eye on each other and your surrounding areas, make a plan based on what-if situations. This is what will aid you should you encounter a sudden change in your environment indicating danger.
H: What other advice would you like to give to college students?
A: Sort of like the Parking Department rules, there are a variety of rules that we live by, both in everyday life we call civilization, and in terms of religion, ethics, and in the natural world we live in. It is important to what we view as our personal success life that we learn all the rules including rules pertaining to your safety. Take the time to learn and make the habits needed to be safe. The Sam Houston State University Police Department has a variety of crime prevention programs that you can ask for that gives you information you need on both the behaviors of those who may wish to harm you, and ways to expand your safety perspective or situational awareness. Contact any Officer through the CORE program at 936 294-1800. Just give us a call, we will be there.