ROCHESTER, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has partnered with the mother of Philando Castile, the man killed by police in Minnesota in 2016, to help reduce violent encounters with law enforcement by making it easier for drivers to store their information and for officers to see when motorists are reaching for documents.
The department purchased about 2,000 "Not Reaching" pouches and have partnered with a number of law enforcement agencies in the state to distribute them to motorists.
"I think anything we can do to reduce the anxiety and stress that can come along with a traffic stop, both from the officer's perspective and the citizen perspective — anything we can do we need to do," DPS Assistant Commissioner Booker Hodges said. "Everybody is better off when that happens. I think these pouches are just one simple way we can go about trying to do that."
Valerie Castile's son, Philando, was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer during a 2016 traffic stop. He had told the officer he had a firearm, which he had a legal right to carry. The officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was eventually acquitted in Castile's death.
Agencies such as the Minnesota State Patrol, Saint Paul police, St. Cloud police, Rochester police and the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office began receiving the pouches in August. Pouches can also be purchased through Not Reaching's website, notreaching.com.
Jackie Carter is the president of the Alliance for Safe Traffic Stops, a national nonprofit whose mission is to de-escalate tensions and eliminate physical harm among motorists and law enforcement during traffic stops. Carter said she created the pouch after the fatal traffic stop involving Castile. At the time the pouch was created, Carter didn't know Valerie Castile. The pair met in 2018 and Castile now serves on the board of directors of Alliance for Safe Traffic Stops.
"It was our son’s 30th birthday and Valerie was losing her son in Falcon Heights, Minnesota," Carter said. "To me, there had to be a solution and in talking with a lot of law enforcement officers, I asked them what is it that escalated traffics stops for you and everyone said 'reaching.'''
Using the pouch, Carter says, is "proactive compliance," both on the part of the driver and the law enforcement agencies who have distributed them. The pouch has a magnet which attaches to a clip on a vehicle's air vent so it is easily visible and accessible.
"You are not waiting until an officer comes to your car. You are already ready for that traffic stop. You are being compliant by being proactive — having your information in an area where police can see it," she said. "Law enforcement agencies that are purchasing them are actually now saying we want this to stop as well. To me, it is proactive compliance for them as well.
"It is also a great community policing tool, where you are now saying, 'I don’t want these things to happen anymore,'" Carter said. "I am being proactive as a law enforcement agency to do what I can to bridge this gap between law enforcement and the community."
Carter agrees with those who say it is a shame the pouches are needed.
“We should never need anything like this, but unfortunately we do and until we have a change, a drastic and systemic change, let's do what we can to stay safe for both parties,” Carter said.