Cambridge Police demonstrate traffic stop gone wrong

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper A citizen volunteer gets surprised when an armed driver leaps out of the car and starts shooting. Cambridge Police sponsored the event to demonstrate the dangers and uncertainty police face when they approach a stopped vehicle.

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
A citizen volunteer gets surprised when an armed driver leaps out of the car and starts shooting. Cambridge Police sponsored the event to demonstrate the dangers and uncertainty police face when they approach a stopped vehicle.

CAMBRIDGE — Sgt. Antoine Patton of the Cambridge Police Department organized a citizens’ talk in the wake of the town hall discussion held by the Eastern Shore Network for Change on July 20. Sgt. Patton called his get-together the “All Lives Matter 2016 Summit,” and held it at the New Life Christian Church on Phillips Street on July 23.

On one of the hottest days of the summer, Sgt. Patton held a discussion inside the church before moving outside for a live demonstration of the type of training drills police cadets attend before graduating from the academy. “We can’t look back at the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Sgt Patton said, “we have to look at now.”

Although the event was not sponsored by the police department, it was well attended by representatives of the Cambridge police, including Chief Dan Dvorak, Sgt. Patton, Lt. Justin Todd, Sgt. Tom Hurley, Officer Shane Hinson and others.

Chief Dan echoed his statements he made at the Wednesday meeting at the Bethel Church. “Please call me,” he said. “I would rather spend hours investigating a citizen’s complaint than have you think you’re being profiled.” Chief Dan expressed his enthusiasm for the new NextDoor app for cell phones and computers (a neighborhood social network app), and urged people to get connected with their neighborhood on the system. He also mentioned the MyPD app as a good way to stay in touch with the Cambridge Police.

One attendee complained that computer and cell phone contact methods are fine, but what about the people who don’t have computers or aren‘t online?

“Then call me,” Chief Dan replied. “My phone line is open to anyone. Call 410-901-8446 and talk to my assistant. I’m not in my office all the time, but I listen and follow up on all messages.” He also gave the anonymous tip line, which is 410-228-3784. “Anonymous calls are fine, but I can’t follow up with you if I can’t call you back. If you call and talk to me and want to remain anonymous, I assure you I’ll keep out conversation private.”

Sgt. Hurley spoke about his many years on the force, and said that he was only a couple years away from retirement. He gave statistics for police coverage in the United States, and said that the national average was one police officer for every 1,300 people in the U.S., while in Cambridge the normal ratio is one officers for every 2,300 residents.

He became emotional when he talked about his wife, who never thought twice about his work as a police officer, until the recent Dallas and Baton Rouge police shootings. “She never gave it a second thought,” he said, “but now she cries when I leave for work in the morning.”

Sgt. Hurley pleaded with residents to “work with us. Talk to us; and meet with us like this,” to keep the communication open between the neighborhoods and the police.
State’s Attorney Bill Jones reiterated his statement from Wednesday’s meeting, saying that his role in the legal system was as an advocate for citizens in their dealings with police. Mr. Jones told the audience that if anyone has a problem with the police, he would like to hear about it, and he can help.

Donald Sydnor, commissioner of Ward 2 in Cambridge, stood and told the audience that “We expect trust from the police department, and we have to give them our trust.” Mr. Sydnor continued, saying that Chief Dan Dvorak, the City Commission and Mayor’s office, were all here to serve the community. Bringing a little humor into the day, he said that we should all thank the police for the work they do. “I would say for you to give them a hug, but you can get into trouble for hugging another man, especially if he’s carrying a gun.”

New Ward 3 Commissioner La-Shon Foster stood and said that she “doesn’t see this as a black vs. white issue,” and urged residents to come to her with their questions and problems, if they don’t want to go to the police.

Fourth Ward Commissioner Dave Cannon spoke, saying he was elected to represent Ward 4, but pointed out that the commissioners all vote on all issues, and that he plans to represent the entire city. He also asked residents to call him if they have questions or concerns.

The Rev. George Ames, stood before the break and told everyone, “In my view, all lives matter. The best we can do is to learn how to talk to each other, and to listen to each other.”

The police asked everyone outside to witness a demonstration, an example of an exercise they have to go through many times at the academy before graduating to become a police officer. They asked for a volunteer from the audience to play the role of police, and used one of their new cadet officers to play the role of the subject of a traffic stop. Both men were dressed in protective gear for what would happen next.

They set up two patrol cars to mimic a typical traffic stop, and had the volunteer exit his car and approach the stopped vehicle just like we’ve all seen on TV. However, as the volunteer-cop approached the stopped car, suddenly the driver of the car burst open the door and sprang out, firing a training handgun at the volunteer. At least five shots were fired while the volunteer staggered back in surprise.

In a second exercise, the driver of the stopped car suddenly jumped out of the car, opened the back seat door and dug around in the back seat, coming out with something black in his hand. This time the volunteer had his weapon out, but the police stopped the exercise before any shots were fired. What was in the driver’s hand? His cellphone.

“The point is,” Sgt. Patton told the onlookers, “we never know what might happen when we pull a vehicle over, but we have to be ready for anything. I hope this explains why an officer approaching your car may be acting a little authoritarian or tense.”

One onlooker asked why in the second exercise the driver jumped out and opened the back door? “Who knows why?” Sgt. Patton explained. “People do crazy things when we pull them over, when all they should be doing is sitting behind the wheel with their hands in view until we can assess the situation. When we approach a car, yes, we may be a little brusque, maybe a little tense, but I have a wife and kids, and I have to be careful.
Because at the end of the day, Antoine is going home, no matter what happens. Antoine is going home after work.”

It was an interesting demonstration to watch, and it gave everyone a brief look into the world of “cops and robbers.” “People seemed to enjoy the traffic stop exercise,” said Chief Dan afterwards, “and I’m hoping it will result in more citizens’ police academy applications.

“I enjoyed the meeting Saturday,” said Chief Dan. “The law enforcement leaders were able to express their thoughts, and the audience raised some good issues. The bottom line for all of their concerns is if they don’t like what an officer does, they need to call me. Communication is the key.”

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