Christian Buckner, a high school student from Zion-Benton Township, was one of many teenagers in northeast Lake County to pose as newly fired drivers during mock traffic stops with the City Police Department. Waukegan at an event organized by the Antmound Foundation.
When Buckner, 17, accepted an invitation to attend from Joanna Gutierrez, the student member of the Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 Board of Education who helped organize the event, he had no idea what s ‘expect. But, he said the idea had merit.
“I thought it was a good idea for teenagers to see what it was like and for people to see what I was going through,” Buckner said. “If they see what it’s like to go through a traffic check, I hope they will be less scared.”
The mock traffic stops were part of the Antmound Foundation’s initial Community Bridges event on Saturday in the parking lot adjacent to the organization’s Waukegan headquarters as part of an effort to help different segments of the community better understand each other. .
“It was very educational,” said Anthony McIntyre, founder of Antmound. “People got to see different situations. It is important that we understand each other. Some people worry about the police. Some say they don’t do enough.
Gutierrez, who worked with McIntyre and Daniel Hill, Jr., chairman of Antmound’s youth committee, organizing the event, said it’s important to understand not only your perspective, but also that of others.
“We need to have a better sense of empathy,” Gutierrez said. “You have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. We will be better off as a community for that.
When Buckner was “stopped” for speeding during the first simulation, the officer first asked for the driver’s license and insurance card. Buckner said he didn’t have the insurance card and the officer gave him suggestions on how to show evidence.
“I want to give you a warning but if you don’t have insurance I’m going to have to write you a ticket,” the officer said. “Your insurance company can email it very quickly.”
Buckner said the simulated experience brought back memories of two weeks earlier when he was subjected to an actual traffic stop.
He said he was arrested near Pleasant Prairie, Wis., for driving 40 mph in a 30 mph zone. Although as soon as he saw the officer’s lights behind him he got scared, it ended much like the mock stop.
“I was scared,” Buckner said. “When he stopped me, I was afraid to hit the pavement. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He asked me for my license and my insurance. He let me go with a warning. He told me to watch the speed limit signs.
For the second simulation, Buckner was less candid with the officer about turning over his license and proof of insurance to the police when he was pulled over for reckless driving. Eventually, Buckner complied and received a warning. The third mock stop was an actual arrest, as police knew the driver was wanted for a robbery.
Following the three mock arrests, the police held a question-and-answer session with the students and others present. A person wanted to know what to do to avoid being arrested in a dark area at night. They wanted to drive to a well-lit area.
Waukegan Police Detective Chris Harris said if a person wants to avoid being charged with fleeing and evading police, they should slow down and turn on their hazard lights so officers know the driver’s intent .
“If you do that, you’re showing the police that you’re going to arrest,” Harris said. “If you go to a place where there are lights, it will be safer for everyone”
McIntyre asked when was a good time for someone who was pulled over to get their license and insurance card in hand to show the officer. Waukegan Police Chief Keith Zupec said communication is important.
“When you learn to drive, they teach you to put your hands in at 10 a.m. and 2 a.m.,” Zupec said. “Keep them there until the officer tells you to. If they’re in your wallet, tell the officer you’re getting there.