Minnesota police want drivers to carry a special pouch so they don't get shot during traffic stops

No word on whether they're also training officers to stop shooting law-abiding people

Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety is rolling out a new product for drivers this week called the “Not-Reaching Pouch.” It’s a clear plastic pouch, meant to be affixed to an air vent or other visible place, for storing a driver’s license and insurance information.

The idea is that the pouches will help reduce the likelihood of officers panicking and shooting drivers who are reaching for their documents during traffic stops.

If this sounds like a rather heavy-handed bit from an Onion article, I regret to inform you that it is 100% real.

“We recently purchased some Not-Reaching Pouches to help reduce deadly force encounters between law enforcement and citizens during traffic stops,” the DPS announced on Twitter this week. “The pouches store a driver’s license, and insurance card in plain sight in the vehicle on an air vent or other visible location.”

“We are continually looking for ways to reduce deadly force encounters as these instances can be catastrophic for police officers, and community members," said DPS Assistant Commissioner Booker Hodges in a press release. “We are hoping these pouches help in some way reduce these instances, even if it's just one.”

DPS is partnering with Valerie Castile, the mother of slain motorist Philando Castile, to distribute the pouches “during community events and other contacts with citizens.” Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop in 2016 after reaching for his wallet and notifying the officer that he had a concealed carry permit. The officer was cleared of criminal wrongdoing and received a settlement of nearly $50,000 upon leaving the police force.

The pouches were initially developed by Jackie Carter, a Black woman, following Castile’s shooting. The product’s website notes that “Some [officers] seem to overreact or go into traffic stops with a certain mindset. Perhaps they’re more aggressive than they need to be, and I think that’s where the situation can become volatile and sometimes fatal,” and that racial profiling is a major factor in disproportionate traffic stops of Black motorists.

It’s one thing for members of a community disproportionately affected by police violence to devise innovative ways to protect themselves during police encounters. But it feels like another thing entirely for police agencies to begin promoting those solutions as well. In effect, police in Minnesota are saying that the likelihood of officers shooting people for complying with their orders is so high that they recommended drivers carry a special device to prevent that from happening.

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Rather than taking steps to address the root of the problem — for instance, by training officers to de-escalate and be less fearful during run-of-the-mill encounters with citizens — promoting the pouches puts the onus on law-abiding motorists to take steps to protect themselves from trigger-happy cops. It also affords police a little bit of ass-covering for future fatal encounters. If a cop shoots a person for reaching into her glove box for her insurance card, the department can then say “this tragic outcome could have been prevented if the driver had used a Not-Reaching Pouch.”

If the pouches become widespread (and given the reaction to this on social media I have serious doubts), what then happens to the people who choose not to use them? Will cops behave more aggressively toward pouch-less drivers? What happens if a person has a pouch but forgets to put their license in it, so during the stop they have to grab their wallet — will the cop assume that a reach in a direction other than the pouch is a threat and open fire?

You want to say “no, of course not” to these questions, and to the notion that “reaching” itself is an inherently suspicious action justifying the immediate use of lethal force. But the simple fact that these pouches exist, and that the police themselves now endorse their use, means that the answer is “yes” — that many police officers have grown so fearful of the public that they’ll open fire on law-abiding people attempting to comply with their orders.

“The people of Minnesota, especially BIPOC Minnesotans, do not need the State to hand out tips and tricks on not getting killed by the police,” said Minnesota state senator Omar Fateh in response to the announcement. “We need the State to address its police violence problem instead of messaging that implies police brutality is the People’s fault.”