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G&A Basics: How to Interact with Police While Carrying

by James Tarr   |  January 31st, 2013 33

PoliceI’ve been “not a cop” a lot longer than I was a cop, and have had a lot of experiences interacting with officers while armed and in street clothes, usually while working as a private investigator. I’ve had both great and horrible experiences, but have learned from all of them. Here’s some helpful advice for interacting with the police as an armed citizen.

First, second, third and most importantly, know the law in your state and any state that you’re traveling through while armed. Can you legally go into restaurants which serve alcohol, even if you’re not drinking? Can you carry inside a bank? The most important part of the law you need to know is whether you are legally required to inform any officer you’re interacting with that you’re carrying.

I live in Michigan, and we are required by law to immediately tell an officer that we’re carrying. Most citizen interaction with police officers will be during traffic stops, and if you are carrying and have a “duty to inform” the officer, put your hands on the steering wheel and calmly and politely let him know that you have a concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit—or whatever it’s called in your state, in Michigan it’s a concealed pistol license (CPL)—and that you are armed.

Try not to use the word “gun,” which is a trigger word for cops. If the officer has a partner on the other side of the car, and all the partner hears is “gun,” things could get interesting. Say you’re armed, carrying a firearm or have a pistol.

Cops are people. Some are great, but some are jerks. Some are pro-gun, some vehemently hate citizens who carry because they see them as a threat to their authority, or as a danger to the public. It is extremely important to stay calm and polite no matter what happens.

I clearly remember a case when I worked as a private investigator where a partner and I were following someone running errands all day. In the afternoon, they made a stop at a Detroit Police precinct. Well, apparently our insurance claimant had spotted our vehicles, because the next thing we knew we were boxed in by four patrol cars. The first officer bounced out of her car and walked up to my partner—knowing damn well what and who we were—and before he could say anything, she asked, “Are you armed?”

His response was “yes,” and that officer then tried to get him arrested because he didn’t tell her he was armed until she asked, thus violating the law. Seeing as both my partner and I were ex-cops, that didn’t fly at all, and the sergeant had to come down to the scene and straighten her out. Even though we had every right to be angry at the officer’s unprofessional behavior, we stayed calm and polite—in fact, that made her even angrier, and put her sergeant even more on our side.

If your state doesn’t have a requirement to notify police officers that you are armed, that’s a decision you’ll have to make. I’ve spent time in and traveled through a lot of states that don’t have a reporting requirement. Personally, I don’t feel it’s any of their business; I’m armed and they’re armed, so the only difference between us is their vocation. In those states where legal, I will only inform an officer when they’re likely to find out anyway, like during a pat-down, or if they ask me to get out of my car.

There is a strong possibility that the police officer might want to secure your gun “for their safety” until they’re done with the traffic stop. Many cops feel that they have a duty to disarm you when you inform them that you’re carrying, which is one reason I don’t unless the law requires it. While I have very strong opinions about being disarmed by someone who doesn’t have any more of a state or federal constitutional right to carry a gun than I do, the fact of the matter is if you refuse to hand over your gun, you are more than likely to be on the ground with the officer’s Glock screwed into your ear.

That said, I’ll never hand another cop a loaded gun, even if he tells me not to unload it first. I have had a Wayne County (Mich.) Sheriff’s Deputy hand me back my loaded 1911 and ask me to unload it, because she couldn’t figure out how. I had a deputy from another county treat me like a complete dirtbag until he realized there was absolutely nothing he could get me on or write me up for. Then, he had to hand me back my loaded weapon—a 1911 he couldn’t figure out how to safely unload—because he couldn’t find the decocker. Sigh.

One famous Michigan story involves an anti-gun cop right after our state passed Shall Issue legislation. She did a traffic stop on a CCW holder, and when he informed her he was carrying she demanded his gun. As he handed it over, she accidentally shot him with his own gun. He lived and she got fired, but sheesh. In my experience, the more crime there is in the area, the less the cops will mess with you or care that you’re armed—they have real crime to deal with—as long as you don’t look or act like a criminal.

Open carry is legal in more states than you would think, and in most of them—like Arizona—the cops are either pro-gun or used to seeing guns. As long as it stays in the holster, you’ll rarely have an issue in those parts of the country.

If you are ever involved in an altercation where you’ve had to draw your weapon—even if a shot isn’t fired—and the cops are called, you need to be both calm and unthreatening. Unless you’re holding someone at gunpoint, your pistol should be holstered and out of sight, or plainly visible a good distance away from you, visibly unloaded (magazine out, slide locked back). If you ever have to draw your weapon—even if you don’t point it at someone—you should contact the local police department and advise them what happened, even if the other guy ran away. There’s always the chance that the felonious dirtbag you scared away called the cops and told them you were waving your gun around, threatening to shoot him for no reason.

Plainclothes DEA agents frequently work undercover and are taught not to raise their voices when confronted by uniformed officers. They are told to move slowly, keep their hands in plain view, and in very calm, measured tones inform the officers that they are federal agents. Why? As a former cop, I can tell you if you roll up on a situation and someone starts yelling at you, no matter what he’s yelling, it’s going to escalate the situation. Staying calm and polite keeps the officers calm and polite.

Finally, if you do find yourself involved in a shooting, say only the bare minimum to the officers responding. For example, “I live here, this man broke in and I was in fear for my life, so I shot him.” That’s the most you should ever tell them before talking to an attorney. It may seem rude, and you may spend a few days in jail while they sort out the physical evidence, but that is definitely preferable to the alternative. Remember, even though the police may seem sympathetic and on your side, everything you say can and will be used to build a case against you.

  • Starky

    As a law Enforcement Officer always let an Officer know when you are carrying. Officers undstand and support the right to carry. At least in my part of the nation. Remeber Officers are always in a state of yellow on alertness. We watch for clothing that is not fitting right. We watch to see if a person seems guarded. If they seem nervous. If they turn away from us. Lots of warning signs are always being watched for. Officers decisions and actions are based on these signs. In most cases once the Office knows you are carrying you will most likely end up in a conversation about firearms. Simply put, put yourself in the Offcers position what would you want?

    • Joseph J Kennedy

      Excellent ,I might also add,to tell the officer " I have a permit to carry ,but I'm not carrying now.the reason for this in michigan they are going to find thie out when run your drivers license .anyway that's how I handle a police stop.

      • Bob Maroldy

        Ohio is the same but I tell all my CCW students to inform regardless of whether or not you are carrying. It helps to form the officer's opinion that you are a "good guy" and has gotten me out of 2 tickets so far, one in TX and one in OH.

    • "In Colt we trust"

      Good advise! I live in Az & even though we don't "have" to have a concealed carry permit, It's WELL worth knowing the law…like when you can even pull it out!! For instance, if your LIFE isn't in IMMEDIATE danger, & you still have a means of escape, you can't pull it out & wave it in your assailent's face…if you do, at THAT point you put THEIR life in immediate danger, & they then have the right to use deadly force on YOU!! The KEY for you to even THREATEN to use deadly force is you have to FEEL your life is in IMMEDIATE danger, not just yelling & a few punches coming your way! The "legal" tables could turn on you REAL FAST!!

    • Rob

      I don't believe that you need to know that I'm carrying if it is not relevant to the interaction. The only time I feel that you need to know is when the situation warrants it such as if you are going to pat me down or if someone has told you that I have a weapon on me.
      I have a CWP for a reason and that reason is to carry my weapon on me so that others don't know I am carrying it.

      • MCG

        You're attitude, while correct in LaLa Land, is one reason we get so much negative press. You need to be extra friendly, cooperative, likeable. You're attitude shows defiance and will – not might- get you in a lot of useless trouble.

      • http://twitter.com/TX_Soldier254 @TX_Soldier254

        Rob you are Wrong.__Like you we have famlies too, please inform the Officer that you are Armed, we dont like "Finding" out, and by the way, Criminals love the "Finding Game" all the time Rob.

  • Allan

    As a law abiding citizen and living in Florida, it is none of your business if I am armed. My firearm is no more a threat to law enforcement than the coins I have in my pocket are. If you have a badge and ask me I will tell you, otherwise I'm not telling.

  • fred

    as a retired cop, this is very good advice. unfortunatly there are crappy cops out there. if your going to carry, concealed or open, HAVE A BIG LOAD OF COMMON SENCE.

  • 2nd Fundamentalist

    Thank you, James, for a very informative and anecdotal article. The great problem I have is being a concealed carry permittee in one state and not being legally allowed to carry in another state. The western states are pretty good (except for California) but police in the Northeastern states, such as New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, to name a few, would probably throw you in jail. How would you handle a traffic stop where you do not have reciprocity or a CCW in that state, and one is carrying for safety purposes?

    • Serpico8881

      All 3 states you are going to be arrested, best advice avoid these states or don't carry. When I was a LEO back in the 70's in NJ (Sorry) I could carry legal in Pa. but not NYC :( , I still carried and hoped I would be dealing with a understanding fellow officer. As I would have done in NJ!!

    • Bob Maroldy

      How would you handle it if you got caught in NY, NJ, or MA without a State license because you were carrying for self defense using your home State license? You would first pray that they do not find out that you have the gun. If they did you would then pray that you have enough money for your lawyer to get you a light sentence (you WILL go to jail for a while). It sucks but that's they way they do it there and that's why I left NY.

    • Frank

      If you are carrying in a state with no reciprocity or no CCW permit at all, you had better hope the officer doesn't find out you are armed or you are going to be face down fast and going to jail. Then as you will now be a felon, you will lose the CCW from your state or be barred from ever getting one.

    • Guy

      Good question… how do we deal with the few southern states without reciprocity while on our way back and forth to Florida every winter?
      Please help.

      • Mike Meserve

        Fed Law: If you gun is legal where you start your trip and where your trip end you can through anystate as long as your gun is unload and lock in your truck.

        • Doug Packer

          That is federal law, but states (such as NJ) have arrested, charged and convicted people for having a legal unloaded gun in their car (even in trunk) while traveling through their state, so I would act like a criminal and hide it.

    • Erik

      " The western states are pretty good (except for California) "
      I Second that! (pun intended). I moved to Washington State a few years ago with my brother from the east coast. The West is alot better. I wish states like NY and NJ would wake up! Sadly I doubt it. We are glad our Dad is out here with us now. Overall good advice in the article. Thanks!

  • ian

    I know I have gotten out of a speeding ticket because I had a ccw. There seemed to be something in common and I believe it actually put him at ease, if you can believe it.

    • Andrew

      Did not work for me, but he was very friendly about it and seemed sorry that the cop in the airplane was ticketing us. He was very fast about the ticket by skipping a lot of the normal background checks. He even let us wait in my friend who was following but was delayed because they ran a full check on him.

  • Carl

    I would also suggest that if they do ask to disarm you, for their safety or whatever reason, that you have the officer disarm you. Especially when you are in jurisdictions where officers ride in tandem. Example: You reach for your firearm per the officers instructions, and the officers partner did not hear the proceeding conversation, all they see is someone grabbing a firearm. Not wanting to get shot, I strongly recommend that you have the officer disarm you if this is needed.

  • bwilson

    what about the cops who break the laws even when you are a law abiding citizen, why go throguh the agony just because they are cops and think they are above the law.

  • T.D. Honeycutt

    When I rolled by car in a ravine after completing an armed escort assignment, I definitely had to call the cops. I walked out to where a local and a state cop were parked, and told them I was on assignment and armed, and did they want to take control of my weapons? Yes, they did, and yes, I was carrying two Glock .40 caliber pistols. I think that's what surprised them the most once I explained how I ended up in the ditch. Helps that they were carrying Glocks, too, so they knew how to unload them. And they gave them back to me unloaded.

  • Andrew

    My wife was pulled over in a speed trap with a friend following us. I told the cop that we both had CCW but were not carrying, in Ohio, we got a ticket but he did not even bother checking us for any warrants. The did a full check on my friend even though he is the must unalarming person you would meet. He was very polite, was very appreciative that we told him even though legally we did not have to since we were not carrying, and seemed sorry that he had to ticket us (the ticketing officer was in an airplane, he was just the issuer). I told him that I knew we did not have to tell him, but he will find out in a minute anyway and wonder why we would not tell him. It is best to not surprise a cop, no matter how good of a person they are. They guy is standing on a highway pointing at cars and ticketing them on another cop's order, he has enough to worry about, I do not need to make him worry why I would not tell him something so simple.

  • Mick

    RE: unloading the pistol– at a "training group" where there were a number of area deputies and police officers practicing when I arrived, I watched the smooth draws, reloads, use of cover, etc. with the Glocks, M&P's and other semi-autos. I was considered an anachronism when I brought out J,K, and L-frame revolvers in .38/357; then one officer wanted to try my 686… if I'd show him how it worked. As it turned out, only 1 of the 7-8 under-30 crowd had any experience with a revolver. Yeah, I'd unload it before handing it over; it's a basic responsibility.

  • Mo-Ron

    In my state of Oregon my permit is tied in with my licence (drivers). The only cop I trust is the county sherriff. Most of the rest are big egos and don't deserve the time of day. So I would just keep my mouth shut.

  • Bob

    Good advice overall, but NEVER ever admit any kind of guilt to a police officer as stated in the end of the article…..“I live here, this man broke in and I was in fear for my life, so I shot him.” NEVER talk to the police because remember anything you say can and WILL be used against you in court. What you say will NEVER be used in your favor. Good stuff tho.

  • E.Gregory

    I live in Florida & have a CCW.When traveling to my former home in Maryland I stop at the state line and transfer my weapon to a locked tool box, I see no reason to take a chance in an anti carry state.

  • D.S.

    I prefer to use the term "firearm" instead of gun or weapon. Firearm sounds more neutral and weapon sounds like it was used in an intended action, and shifts the officers attention in a direction, you don't want to go. Just calling it a gun, can give the impression that you lack intellect. Firearm is the most generic term, and doesn't arouse suspicion.

  • Brandon T.

    I like the phrase "I feared for my life, there is a man arrest him" the I don't understand whats going on I need a ambulance please" at that point no more questions can be asked due to medical duress. plus you never admitted anything

  • WesTexan

    The rules in Texas are quite simple, especially for a traffic stop. When the officer asks for your driver's license and proof of insurance (we're not asked for registration since it is a sticker on the windshield)., you are required by law to hand the officer your concealed carry license at the same time. When the officer examines your licenses, the next question is usually, "Are you carrying now?" It's really very "cut and dried." My answer is a simple "Yes" or "No, but it is in the car." I'm always polite and cooperative. I have not yet been required to display or surrender my firearm. A calm demeanor, eye contact and polite responses go a long way.

  • Jack Betz

    I'd inform the officer any time I am carrying and hand over my permit any time I'm asked for ID. Reason being if they run my name and it comes back I have a permit they might become upset.

  • Sharon Doyle

    In Texas, it has been my experience that officers of the law ask for your driver's' license at the first breath. When I passed my exam for concealed carry I was told that I must always show my concealed carry permit at the same time I produce my driver's license. So I do and I've never had a problem.

  • Evyl Robot Michael

    I’ve had a handful of LEO interactions since I started carrying. The most severe disarmament that I experienced was a highway patrolman who asked me to leave my gun in the driver’s seat and sit in the passenger seat of his cruiser while he ran my tag and worked out paperwork. Although he expressed his disdain for OC (I was concealed at the time), he was calm, courteous, and respectful the whole time. Most cops have treated me with more respect than I would have expected when they see my gun license. When they have no idea what kind of person they are initiating contact with, it must be a comfort to see that thorough a criminal background check summed up on one card. I know it would be so for me if I was in their shoes.

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