Here’s what to do in an encounter with law enforcement

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At the end of the day, both the driver getting pulled over and the officer making the stop want to make it home safely.

Lt. Myrone Grady of the Lawrence Police Department and Neosho County Attorney Linus Thuston shared some advice on how to do that with a few dozen community members Saturday evening at Victory Bible Church. 

Most interactions with law enforcement occur in traffic stops, so much of Saturday’s talk focused on safety during those uncomfortable moments.  

Grady, LPD’s first executive officer for diversity and community engagement, noted that Kansas passed a law in 2015 that allows anyone ages 21 and older to carry a concealed gun with or without a permit. 

“I’m not here to try to garner any type of sympathy for what it is we have to deal with on our end because that is a ‘me’ problem, not a ‘you’ problem,” Grady said. “… I treat everybody — and it’s kind of sad, but this is the way it is now — like they are armed, because it’s not illegal to be armed anymore.” 

As a supervisor now, Grady doesn’t make traffic stops himself, but he reflected on the years that he did.

“I would tell everybody, ‘Look, slow down, take a deep breath, because we only get really one chance to do this thing right. And if we do it right, everybody goes home and does the things that they need to do based on the situation.’” 

Remain silent

Rather than be confrontational during a traffic stop — or in any interaction with police — it’s better to exercise your right to remain silent. 

Thuston said that oftentimes we may say things that are incriminating, or we might say things we don’t mean when we’re emotional. People are generally better off when they invoke their right to remain silent.

However, he said, you should provide your identification. 

Traffic Stop 101

Thuston said that as an officer approaches a vehicle, they’re conducting a threat assessment. Here are some suggestions he shared:

Mackenzie Clark / Lawrence Times Neosho County Attorney Linus Thuston speaks about what to do in an encounter with law enforcement, Saturday, July 9, 2022 at Victory Bible Church in Lawrence. Behind him is Lawrence Police Department Lt. Myrone Grady.

Pull over as soon as you safely can. The officer can tell you to pull forward if necessary, but stopping immediately is important. 

Thuston said he turns on the vehicle’s interior lights and rolls down all the windows — not just the driver’s side — so the officer can see clearly inside as they approach. 

Keep your insurance and registration information tucked into the sun visor rather than in a glove compartment or center console. Thuston suggested also putting your wallet on the dashboard so your driver’s license is easy to access. Reaching into the glovebox, center console or your back pocket could make an officer nervous.

Thuston said he still has a landline with an answering machine. He dials that number and puts his cellphone on speaker so that there will be an audio recording of the stop elsewhere. 

 Keep your hands at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions on the steering wheel and don’t make any quick movements.

Know your rights — and pick reliable sources to learn about them

Thuston said social media is not a good place to learn your rights. One example he cited was some who say officers must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion for a traffic stop. That’s true, Thuston said — but they don’t necessarily have to tell you what that reason is. 

“If you ask ‘Why did you pull me over?’ and they don’t give you an immediate response, that does not give you a reason to say ‘I’m not gonna be cooperative because you didn’t give me the reason for the stop,’” Thuston said. 

If it’s a bad stop, that can be addressed in court, he said. But the side of the road is not the courtroom. 

In addition to the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent rather than give testimony — or simply say something — that might incriminate yourself, Thuston highlighted the Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Sixth Amendment right to defense counsel. 

Legal experts with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas compiled a guide that is available free online.

Some audience members asked questions at the end of the speakers’ presentations. Here are a few of those questions and answers:

What if I want to make a complaint about an interaction with law enforcement, but I don’t know or forgot the officer’s name? …

Thuston and Grady said if you can provide information such as the time, date and location of the incident or interaction, the department should be able to determine officers who were present through records kept. 

“Don’t ever let that discourage you from reporting an encounter. If you feel in your heart that you want that report — because a lot of times, if people don’t report, we don’t know,” Grady said. “And if we don’t know, we can’t really do much about it. … We want to know who those people are.” 

Thuston said if no one is willing to be a witness, “historically, that’s hurt us across this country when we’ve had bad actors.” Oftentimes citizens don’t want to be snitches or get involved — “and then that same person stays on the street, year in and year out, doing the exact same behavior,” Thuston said. 

LPD’s logs of calls are also available on our site going back to Jan. 1, 2020. Those can help pinpoint an incident and the number that is attached to it in the police department’s computer system.

… How long are those records retained?

According to the Lawrence Police Department’s policy manual, body-worn camera recordings associated with traffic citations will be maintained for one year. Recordings associated with more serious charges and incidents, ranging from traffic accidents to homicides, are kept between two years and forever. 

If there was no citation issued or the recordings aren’t associated with more serious offenses or complaints, or they are “deemed to not have evidentiary value,” body-worn camera recordings can be erased after 90 days. 

In addition, “I don’t think anybody gets rid of their dispatching recordings,” Thuston said, which include the time, date, location and a brief description of the call. “Those things stay around indefinitely.”

Below are the Lawrence Police Department’s policies on body-worn camera footage and record retention:


LPD’s full policy manual is available via this link. The department also follows this guidance from the Kansas State Historical Society. 

Is it normal for an LPD officer’s holster to be unlatched when they’re interacting with you?

No, Grady said. If an officer’s holster is open and there’s nothing holding their gun in there, they probably just forgot to close it, but “we don’t just, as soon as we get out of the car, boom boom, open up our holsters and have it ready to go,” Grady said. “That’s not something we teach people. They shouldn’t be doing stuff like that.” 

Saturday’s event was sponsored by the Lawrence Ecumenical Fellowship Inc., Legacy Work LLC, Sankofa Tumi LLC, SWAP, and the Lawrence Branch NAACP.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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