ST. PAUL — Minnesota drivers should alert police officers if they have a firearm in their vehicle and expect officers to introduce themselves and let them know why they've been pulled over for a traffic stop, under new guidance set to be added to state driver's manuals.
The changes announced Monday, July 6, come four years to the day after Philando Castile was killed by a St. Anthony police officer. Castile's mother Valerie Castile pushed for the change aimed at reducing misunderstanding and instances of deadly force between officers and drivers.
Philando Castile was pulled over on July 6, 2016, and told officer Jeronimo Yanez he had a legal firearm in the vehicle. Yanez shot Castile while Diamond Reynolds, Castile's girlfriend, live-streamed the encounter and as Reynolds' young daughter looked on from the backseat.
The new guidance for motorists and trained police and peace officers in Minnesota recommends that drivers keep their hands on the steering wheel rather than reaching about the car if they're pulled over. And it instructs officers to identify themselves, ask for identification and proof of insurance and explain to drivers why they've been asked to stop.
Valerie Castile said the change was one of several proposals put forth by a commission on police deadly force encounters that could prevent additional deaths. And she said it could be a first step in improving the safety of traffic stops in Minnesota.
"It's been four years now and it seems like yesterday," Castile said of her son's death. "This little tidbit is very, very important. That bit of information can save lots of lives because you don't know what you're going to get when the police walk up to your car."
So far, a slate of other proposals has failed to gain bipartisan support in the state Legislature. Conversations there were pushed forward as a priority after another police-involved death — that of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded for help. Floyd later died at a hospital nearby.
Activists in Minnesota and beyond have called for reforms to state policing laws following Floyd's killing.
Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said he would make the firearms change independent of the Legislature because it could help make traffic stops safer for drivers and officers and would allow for consistent policy across the state.
"As we know all too well, traffic stops can turn deadly, as did the one where Philando Castile lost his life. And one way we believe to reduce the danger is to have a clear understanding of what should happen during a traffic stop," Harrington said. "Our message to drivers and law enforcement really is we want to make sure that traffic safety doesn't lead to a personal tragedy."
Under the new rules, drivers will be asked to notify an officer that they have a firearm in the vehicle and say where the weapon is if they're pulled over. New state guidance urges drivers in that position to keep their hands on the steering wheel as an officer approaches rather than reach around in the car or leave the vehicle.
"Throughout this, the officers should show you respect," Assistant Commissioner of Public Safety Booker Hodges said. "You should expect respect from police officers."
Lawmakers could again take up additional reform measures later this month as they return to the Capitol for a special legislative session.