Hannah Edelman // Delaware News Journal
Keep your hands visible. Cooperate with police. Don’t act combative.
This is advice that Jason Hatchell, a spokesperson for the Delaware State Police, gave to students at William Penn High School near New Castle on Thursday morning. He was one of the officers leading a traffic stop safety initiative hosted
by U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss.
“It’s a dynamic situation," Weiss said. "(The initiative) doesn’t just benefit the
kids, it benefits law enforcement."
A group of about 25 sophomores – most of whom do not yet have their driver’s licenses – lined up outside to watch a simulated traffic stop around 9 a.m. after a “Road Rules and Rights” presentation to 200 students in the cafeteria. The demonstration outside the school was primarily a media event to showcase the initiative.
In the simulation, a student vehicle was “stopped” by two police cars. Two officers approached the student vehicle and asked for their license and registration. In the backseat, a police officer – the only non-student in the car – challenged the cops conducting the traffic stop.
The officer in the backseat pretended to call his mom, attempted to leave the car and suggested hiding imaginary contraband.
Dylan Georges, a sophomore at William Penn High School, sat in the driver’s seat in the mock traffic stop. He said that he learned that when the other passengers start “freaking out” or refuse to cooperate with law enforcement, the situation gets “a thousand times worse.”
At the same time, Georges said, cops “have to be understanding” that most teenage drivers have never been pulled over before. Many also haven’t had the opportunity to engage in this type of simulation.
“It saves lives,” he said.
New drivers like Georges – who said he will get his learner’s permit when he turns 16 next month – are an “extremely tough group to reach,” Weiss said. This is why his initiative is “huge for all of law enforcement.”
His office also facilitates school programs statewide on opioid use prevention, internet safety and gang violence.
Traffic stops can be an “intense encounter” for everyone involved, Weiss said, especially when it’s dark outside. This makes opportunities like this for teenagers and police officers to “get to know one another as humans as opposed to dealing with one another on the street” especially important.
Wilmington police and Delaware State Police participated in the event. The New Castle County Police Department – which has come under fire this year after a traffic stop turned deadly with a civilian in January – was not present.
New Castle County police spokesperson Mike Eckerd explained that because the Police Department does not have a school resource officer, they were not invited when the U.S. Attorney's Office began the initiative. However, the department supports the program and plans to participate in the future.
Officers participate in their own mock traffic stops in the police academy, as it can be “one of the most dangerous situations” for them, Hatchell said. He explained that events like this simulation for teenagers can help them to understand the officers’ perspectives on the situation.
Weiss said he has visited most high schools in New Castle County as part of the initiative, working with over 1,200 students. The program is part of the required driver's education course and counts toward the 30 hours of classroom instruction required for drivers under the age of 18.
he initiative will soon move on to schools in Kent and Sussex counties.