EDITOR’S NOTE: We asked Wess Winn, community services officer and crime prevention coordinator with the Waxahachie Police Department to write a weekly column in an effort to answer many of the law enforcement-related questions posed by our readers. Here’s this week’s column.
When is it safe to walk up to or get a police officer’s attention?
When I was in the academy I would hear stories from our instructors of how people would walk up to police officers and just ask questions, while the officers where on calls. When I heard this I figured it only happened on low priority calls; was I wrong.
I have had people, numerous times stop out on Interste 35E behind my marked patrol until, with lights flashing, while I am on a stop and come toward my vehicle to ask me a question. That is just one of the examples.
Please do not take this as an insult because many people today still approach officers as they did some years back, with a sincere concern or question — but the times have drastically changed.
The problem we have is with the ones that are looking for an opportunity to hurt us.
When you see a police officer close by and need to ask a question or just talk, there are a few points you can use.
First is to always approach an officer from the front, which allows them the opportunity to observe the demeanor of the person approaching and react accordingly.
Someone maybe intoxicated or be visibly upset — which would tell the officer to prepare for the worst — or it could be a small child, which would be treated different.
It is also a good idea to have your hands visible, not up in the air over your head but down to your side.
Many officers make it a habit (good) when talking to people to have them keep their hands where they are visible to the officer.
This is another officer safety issue, so please do not get upset if an officer ask you to remove your hands from your pockets. When officers are on any type of fight or alcohol related call, everyone will keep their hands visible because of the nature of the call.
Never approach an officer sitting in his vehicle without getting his attention. To get their attention you need to take a wide approach to their vehicle so they will see you coming.
I do this today when I walk up on my fellow officers when they are working and I am in street clothes.
And last is to make sure the officer is not on a call. When an officer is on the highway or a “side street” and they have their lights on, that is not the best time to approach them and get directions. You not only put yourself in danger but also the officer because now he has to watch out for you, which could get him hurt or someone else.
Make sure the officers are not in the middle of something because for all you know that person the officers are interviewing may have a gun on him.
We want people to feel free to talk to us anytime it is safe, that is why we are here. I also hope you can understand a little more about why police officers can be paranoid once in awhile.
We, as officers are reminded about the dangers of letting our guard down quite frequently as was the case with the four Lakewood police officers back in November of 2009.
A criminal with a grudge against police walked nonchalantly into a café and opened fire on the four officers, killing all them.
Our goal when we put on the badge each day, which was burned into our mind from day one of the academy, is to make sure we go home each night/morning at the end of your shift.
If you have a Police Beat question for Officer Wess Winn, he may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-937-9940, Ext. 212. Look for your questions to be answered here in the Waxahachie Daily Light every Sunday or listen to officer Winn’s show on KBEC Radio AM 1390 at 9 a.m. every Monday.