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Woodbridge Dad Asks Cop To Pull Son Over In 'Teachable Moment'

Patch logo Patch 9/3/2019 Carly Baldwin
a man standing next to a car © Provided by Planck, LLC, d/b/a Patch Media

WOODBRIDGE, NJ — A Woodbridge father of three asked a local police officer to pull his son over this past weekend — all so the teenage boy could learn how to respect, and not fear, police officers during a traffic stop.

The unique encounter occurred this past Saturday, Aug. 31. Scott Harrell, 45, was teaching his teenage son how to drive in an empty parking lot near the Woodbridge Community Center on Main Street. The big lot, empty on a holiday weekend, seemed like the perfect place to instruct the 16-year-old boy behind the wheel, even though the teen has yet to obtain his learners' permit.

"That's when we passed a Woodbridge police SUV with two officers sitting inside it," said Harrell, who is himself a former cop. "My son immediately got very nervous. I asked him what was wrong. He said he didn't want us to get in trouble, as he's an unlicensed driver."

That's when Harrell decided he had a unique opportunity before him. He asked his son to stop the car, got out, tapped on the police officers' window and politely asked if they wouldn't mind doing him a favor: Please pull over his son's car, with lights and sirens flashing.

"I said, 'If you're not too busy, could you pull over my child?' Of course the officer looked at me real quick and said 'What do you mean?,'" Harrell laughed, while relaying the story to a Patch reporter. "I replied that I want to take him through the process of a traffic stop, so he knows what to expect and realizes there is nothing to fear. I don't want him to be scared when he sees you guys out there."

Harrell has lived in Woodbridge for the past 13 years; he currently works as a recruiter and also does the announcing for the Edison-based Jersey Sharks semi-pro football team and the Woodbridge Pop Warner Broncos. But before all that Harrell himself was a police officer in Roselle; he retired after five years due to an injury.

"I remember the very first time I got pulled over. I was terrified and that only exacerbates the situation. Also, when I was on the force, if the driver was already nervous and agitated it made me nervous like, what is this person hiding?" said Harrell. "I don't want my son to be afraid. I'm not always going to be with him and I want him to know how to conduct himself in a traffic stop. I wanted him to realize the police are only doing their job and it doesn't have to be a negative experience."

Sure enough, when Officer Nirav Patel showed up behind the teen, Jason was very upset. He actually drove the car up onto the curb in his haste to pull over. Take a deep breath and relax, his Dad told him.

"As soon as my son saw the red and blue lights behind him, he panicked and ran us up on the curb. I said, OK, the first thing you have to do is find somewhere safe to pull over, for not only you but the officer behind you," said Harrell. "Then he said, OK, now what? I said just sit there and the officer is going to come over and ask you some questions."

Officer Patel walked over and told the teen he was stopping him because his license plate was partially covered.

"My son started saying 'I didn't know, I didn't know,'" said Harrell. "I told him, 'Son, calm down. He's letting you know you need to fix that at a later time.'"

The officer then told him to always be careful who rides in his car, and to be careful about what they bring into the vehicle. Jason asked: "What if I'm driving my friend and he has something he shouldn't have?" Harrell said. "The officer replied, well, if he was really your friend would he be putting you at risk like that? Because as the driver you are responsible for whatever is in your car."

Patel then asked Jason where he goes to school (Middlesex County Vo Tech) and they then talked about music. At the end of the interaction, both the cop and the teen were smiling and laughing; they shook hands and the officer walked away.

"This was a teachable moment: Definitely the fact that I and my son are African American came into my thinking," said Harrell. "There are a lot of people who speak and yell at the problem without realizing we are all human beings. Most police officers, all they want is to do their job and go home at night. My son had the opportunity to interact with a police officer, both of them as human beings, not icons."

Harrell said he also took the above photo of the encounter, and shared it with Woodbridge police, who in turn shared it on their Facebook page. So far, the post has gotten more than 600 "likes."

"I felt the photo was important. It doesn't take any effort at all to find an image of a negative interaction between a young African-American man and a police officer," he said. "But this was a positive one. I wanted to highlight that."

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