Md. doctor writes prescription for surviving police encounters: Humility, respect

How to safely negotiate encounters with police - Dr. Geoffrey Mount Varner

WASHINGTON — A Maryland emergency room doctor wants to save lives, but his prescription doesn’t involve new medications or safety equipment: He’s targeting young men and hopes more of them will come home safely after encounters with police.

Dr. Geoffrey Mount Varner, of Bowie, said that humility and respect are the keys to surviving interactions with police and avoiding a trip to the ER.

Mount Varner said his son, and the realization that his 11-year-old boy was old enough to be killed by the police, motivated him to write a book detailing steps the public — especially young, black men — can take to safely negotiate traffic stops and other routine encounters with police.

His self-published book, “Home Alive: 11 Must Rules for Surviving Encounters with the Police,” is not intended to be a cure-all or policy prescription to reduce the number of people killed at the hands of police each year, he said. He calls it a way to bridge the gap.

Mount Varner has worked at several area hospitals in D.C. and Baltimore. He’s also served as the interim EMS medical director for three D.C. mayoral administrations.

And as an emergency medical doctor, Mount Varner has treated patients who were shot by police, but he’s also treated wounded officers. De-escalating tense situations will save lives — both the officers’ and members’ of the public, he said.

His top tip: Be humble.

“It seems simple, but at the end of the day an officer wants to feel respected,” Mount Varner said. “It doesn’t matter who you are. The officer on that scene, he controls that scene. He or she expects you to treat him with respect and deference.”

He also recommends not making any sudden moves. Instead, ask permission before taking any actions like reaching for insurance information or grabbing a wallet.

Mount Varner, who is black and grew up in Prince George’s County, also offers what may seem like anachronistic advice in modern America: Don’t look the officer in the eye.

“You don’t want to give him any reason to think you are challenging him. People call it demeaning. But keep in mind, the goal is to make it home alive.”

He said once home, there are steps people can take to file grievances or dispute tickets or charges after the encounter.

The need to educate the public on how to safely interact with the police has also caught the attention of state lawmakers. In Virginia, a new law kicked in on Saturday that requires schools to teach young drivers about appropriate behavior during traffic stops as part of driver’s education instruction.

Other states including North Carolina and Illinois are considering similar driver’s ed requirements.

Mount Varner’s book is available for sale on Amazon.

WTOP’s Stephanie Gaines-Bryant contributed to this report. 


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