By Harold F. Callahan*
I left quite a bit of blood and sweat at Verdrag. Some skin too. Our instructors were hard faced men who constantly told us that if we stuffed up at the wrong time, we were dead. We were indoctrinated with the legend of Warrant Officer Solly Bredenhann. On the evening of Monday 27 September 1982 the officer was on patrol in Boksburg of all places. Late that night he spotted two suspects in a car and stopped them at the next robot in Commissioner street. He shone his torch at them to identify them and in response the passenger held up what was clearly a hand grenade with the pin pulled and threatened to throw it at Solly. In a flash his pistol was out and he fired at the suspect. The driver sped off but just a few metres away crashed and the grenade detonated killing both the occupants. Another three Russian made grenades were found in the car. It was also established both occupants suffered fatal gunshot wounds before the grenade ended it all for sure. Warrant Bredenhann was awarded a medal for his outstanding action and the lesson we learned was you never take any routine stop for granted. Since then, and after many stories since that one, policemen across the country have been trained to keep their eyes peeled and nerves on edge, especially at close quarters. Sorry to say, but we trust nobody. Anybody can be a threat, especially when they are handling something that can very quickly cause some slow marching and loud singing.
Back in the first blog a very good question was raised pertaining to how you should appropriately produce and present your firearm should you be asked to by a police official at, using our old example, a road block. If you look at it from our side, we have identified an armed person, and while he is not suspected of any crime whatsoever, we are entering tricky terrain of handling a firearm around people, more importantly, around me. If you consider the rules around firearm handling at a range, think about how delicately we have to control you whipping out your Glock without any mistakes. I do not doubt for one second many, many owners are highly competent and safe handlers of firearms, but by the rule of the ogive curve of any population, we have to believe there are a proportion who are not.
Friends, it is all about communication, and remember there is no rush.
First off, it is pretty much guaranteed that the police official will ask to see your licence and or competency certificate cards first. If you own more firearms but do not have them on you, just show the official the licence of the firearm you have on you there and then. Keep things simple. If you were not issued an actual card competency certificate, don’t sweat. It’s the licence that is holds the main pertinent information.
- Expect some cursory questions. Confirming your ID number verbally or at least date of birth.
- It is highly unlikely you will be expected to recite your firearm’s serial number. If you know it, that’s good.
- The Police official may then ask you where the firearm is. Without being stupidly vague or belligerent, respond specifically. “Sir my pistol is in a holster on the right side of my body under my shirt.” Or “Sir, my rifle is in a carry bag on my back seat.”
- Very often, and my guys have done this plenty of times, the official may simply verbally confirm with you that the firearm is being carried safely and you are familiar with the responsibility of carrying that firearm. He or she is not treating you like an idiot, they are merely bringing to your mind all the bits of law you should be familiar with. I’ve also encouraged my members and any other police official reading this too to be supportive of a law abiding citizen. If the firearm is your CZ Shadow and you just finished a competition, the policeman may ask you “So how did it go?” He’s not prying into your personal life, he’s being human.
- On the sporting front specifically, please do not get uptight about stories that begin with “Uff aam on tha wai back fraam the range an sum ou traas to hijak mee…” simply because it hasn’t happened yet. So cross that bridge when you come to it. Also, you may carry your sporting pistol in a holster on your way to and from the event. If you are shooting rifle or shotgun, prudence suggests you keep them in a bag or gun case. Unless you have an abnormally small penis and want to be seen with your tricked out AR on the seat next to you. Allow also that at our classroom roadblock, the police (remember old Solly Bredenhann) may get a little jumpy if you roll in with a AK looking item casually lounging in the foot well of your Corolla. We certainly are not just going to shoot you out of hand for having one on your seat, but how things progress from there will have an influence on both of our futures, especially my blood pressure.
- If the official asks to see or inspect your firearm please, please…..this is not the time to demand warrants and “do you know who I am’s”. Every roadblock has had necessary paperwork done in terms of operational plans, orders and pass by legal department. In a controlled situation like that, the power of the Police present is to be able to open and inspect any vehicle, vessel or container. Please don’t give the yankee doodle crud of “justifiable cause” which you saw on “world’s wildest police chases” last night. Unless you have committed or busy committing an offence (a certain stash of certain herbs you have hidden in places you think the cops haven’t thought of yet) you have no worries.
- If the firearm is in a bag in your boot or car, ask if you can get out of your car to retrieve it. You will be allowed to. You really don’t have to heft the bag out onto your bonnet for the world to see, so unlock/unzip the box/bag, open it and leave it for the official to see. At this point they may ask where the serial number is. If you don’t know, find out now. I know some shotguns have them under the front stock furniture, so if any handling needs to take place, inform the official. “Sir, it is on the other side. May I turn it over for you?” You may get a “No, no, that’s fine” or an affirmative. If handling is necessary, please don’t feel the need click around safetys or rack slides and yell “all clear”. Lift the weapon as you would a friend’s baby and with the minimum of movement, remove the furniture or turn it to reveal the number. Allow the official to read off the number and once this is done he will very likely tell you to put it back and close up.
- If the firearm is on your person and the official asks to see it, we imagine things may get tricky. Another official at the roadblock doesn’t want to be surprised seeing a dude pulling out a pistol in such close proximity to a colleague especially if it is carelessly pointed at said colleague. We kinda take that personally. Again, the bywords here are slowly, confidently and respectfully. Do not turn away from the police official and start ejecting mags etc. I get nervous with that at the best of times. Repeat where the firearm is and tell the police official you will now expose it.
- This now presents contingencies as to where you choose to carry. What if you are female and carrying in a belly band? You are not expected to expose yourself to a male police official to retrieve your firearm. The answer is simple. Communication. Under the Criminal Procedure Act, a woman my not be searched by a male officer and vice versa. Any search must be conducted in a manner commensurate with privacy and human dignity. Checking a firearm falls under this section of the Act. “Sir” for example “it is under my clothes, may I turn away to retrieve it.” Your willingness to comply will win points. I’ve had these situations, and it is often met with, no, it’s ok, you may go. Otherwise, you can expect a female official to be called over to take up the interview.
- Let’s use the example of an ankle holster. Again, communication. “Sir, it is on my ankle, I’m going to put my foot up on my car seat to get to it easily. IWB, “Sir, it is under my shirt, I’m going to lift up my shirt to show you and then take it out.
- When you draw the firearm, you don’t have to show what a big killer you are by popping the mag, racking the slide and catching the round in your teeth. Draw the firearm cleanly using flat, uncurled fingers and then lay it on your other hand as it is. Try your best to keep the muzzle pointed in a neutral direction. This may be almost impossible in a vicinity populated by police and other civilians, but do your best.
- If the serial number is not in view, tell the official where it is. “Sir, this pistol has the number on a plate under the frame, let me turn it over for you.” You tip the grip up, supporting the weight of the weapon in your less dominant hand and expose the serial number. “Sir, the number is on the other side, let me turn it over for you.” Rotate the firearm 180° on your hand like you would move the hands of a clock and then flip it over to show the number.
- Remember, this exercise may occur at night, or in low light. So if necessary, move your hands out of shadow or into the beam of his or her torch.
- Once the police official is satisfied with the serial number and perhaps calibre, ask if you can put the firearm away. When invited to, thank the police official and under control, place your firearm back and straighten your clothing.
At this point you are pretty much done. Unless on the face of things there is something amiss, it is highly unlikely any further inspection will be conducted. As with any roadblock or VCP, Your name and vehicle details may be recorded for productivity purposes. The police are measured as to how many vehicles they inspect and your interview will be recorded as a “search”. You will be then allowed to proceed.
As with the previous blog, a lot of fear and mistrust occurs through ignorance of procedure, little knowledge or practice on how to appropriately conduct oneself and a big hunk of bull created through prejudice. If you have nothing to hide and have no cause for undue attention, you should welcome going through a police roadblock. They are there, at a strong point, to do their job. It’s not nice standing in blazing sunshine or freezing wind for three hours asking people to please use their seatbelts. The opportunity to engage with a law abiding, friendly and respectful member of the public is a refreshing change. Don’t see it as persecution if you are pulled over. It’s not personal. Please don’t have the “Ja but there are plenty REAL criminals out there, why are you checking me?” When I start waving a car approaching me, I don’t know if it’s an old lady on her way home from book club or a psycho with a body in the boot. (Again, Solly’s story) We look at numerous things when we pull a car. How does the driver look? Sober, nervous, sweating, smiling? How is he dressed? Do his clothes kind of match his car? 19 years old, UCT t-shirt in a old Chico? All good. Is his car riding low on the road? Is there something heavy in the boot? Do passengers look nervous? Are they arrogant, sober, avoiding looking at you? Where are their hands, is a huge focus. Your face wont hurt me as much as what you could be holding. Much of this unspoken communication and body language speak volumes to any police official. We are seriously not there to piss you off. Like you, we also want to get home in one piece to our families.
Last two bits of advice. You cant handle your firearm and cell phone at the same time. If you are busy with a police official, ignore your phone. From my side I find it a bit rude to be interviewing a person only for him to dive into his car and answer with, “Jaa hi, jaa I’m being stopped by the cops” and then have a long chat, loudly like the alpha male you see in the mirror every morning. When I am busy with you, concentrate on what I am saying and asking of you. Second. The SAPS and other police agencies are pretty well informed when it comes to cultural diversity and sensitivity. We have experience dealing with various faiths, sects, race groups, genders etc. You very likely should be treated commensurate with who you are. A Catholic priest will be greeted with “Good afternoon Father, may I see your driver’s licence please? We know that a veiled Muslim woman may not reveal her face unless in the presence of her husband, father or adult son. So 99.999% of the time we don’t ask. I don’t need to inconvenience someone to do my job. Much of police procedure and law is around the words “reasonable and justifiable”. The more we understand each other, the more we will get along. Remember, on my off days, I’m just plain grandpa Harry.
*Harold F. Callahan is a police officer with many years of experience, and who will be gracing Gunservant (and its rebranded guise when the new site is launched) with hopefully regular and useful articles pertaining to SAPS-related information and issues.