How not to get killed when stopped by a cop

I'd like to take a rational look at the confrontations among cops, motorists, and pedestrians.

When we see incidents of cops shooting blacks (which are the only shootings the media cover), one thing becomes clear: resisting arrest often ends up with a loss of life.  Something else is obvious: when a cop is the one losing his life, it's practically overlooked by the media.

When a police officer, whether during a traffic stop or a street stop, is making an arrest, the person being arrested has no right to resist.  If that person believes it's an unlawful arrest, he can make that argument at the station house or in a courtroom.  However, let's be clear about this: the cop has the legal authority to make the arrest, simply based on the penal law.

Moreover, once the officer has uttered the words "you're under arrest," the only right that person has, under the law, is to submit to said arrest.  Furthermore, the only right the cop has, under the law, is to follow through with the arrest of someone who has broken the law.  What benefit to society would occur if cops were to just walk away when someone defies lawful authority?  Should cops arrest only those who come along willingly?

People don't like getting arrested.  In addition, if they already have a criminal record, they are likely to be facing some prison time.  That might cause them to panic and react violently.  But the officer who stopped them may not know about their criminal past.  Hence, his life may be in danger from someone facing a long prison sentence.

Most cops with experience know that every call for service could end up in a battle for their lives.  Some of the most violent situations I faced during my 20 years with the NYPD began with something as innocuous as a family dispute.  In other words, I wasn't called to the scene of a homicide, an armed robbery, or an assault in progress.  The dispatcher said there was an argument between a man and his wife.  Yet, when a cop arrives on the scene, one of the participants may feel it's time to get very tough with the spouse, in front of the cop.  When the cop intercedes, he often finds that he's under attack from both.  You need only one experience like that to be on high alert going forward.

Generally speaking, most people, of all skin shades, will cooperate when stopped by a police officer.  In 99.99 percent of police stops, the person goes on his way, with or without a ticket or other legal document.  The problem arises when people, evidently thinking they're above the law, refuse to obey the officer's directions.

Here's an example from my own experience.  I stopped a man on the street because I had a warrant for his arrest on a charge of robbery.  My partner and I got out of our radio car and approached him.  After confirming his identity, I showed him the warrant and told him he's under arrest.  He response was something like, "You ain't arresting me, m-----------!" as he began backing up and raising his fists as if to engage in combat.

O.K. — what does the average citizen think a cop should do under those circumstances?  The cop is there to protect the public against criminals.  If he is too timid, or too scared to do his job, the public suffers.  If the bad guys believe they can intimidate the police into backing down, can you imagine what they'll do to the average law-abiding citizen?  In the case described above, the wanted man was taken into custody, albeit after some necessary roughness.

Let me tell you the lesson every cop learns if he lives long enough.  That is, anyone willing to fight a cop is very likely to kill him in order to escape.  I've scuffled with men who tried to grab my gun during the encounters.  If they had gotten it out of my holster, I wouldn't be here to write about it.

What many people don't understand is that cops get scared, too!  They just want to do their job and go home to their families.  Therefore, when a violent situation occurs, they'd better be prepared to overcome the resistance to their authority, one way or another.  If someone ends up getting hurt or killed, the cop wants to be certain that it's not he.  Once again, I reiterate that all these tragedies could be eliminated if people obeyed the law and didn't resist arrest.

Bob Weir is a retired detective sergeant in the New York Police Department

Image via Public Domain Pictures.

To comment, you can find the MeWe post for this article here.

If you experience technical problems, please write to