Of course it’s normal to be nervous when you see those blue and red strobe lights in your rear-view mirror.
You may be thinking:
What did I do?
Why is that cop picking on me?
Well, guess what? The police officer is also very concerned.
So-called “routine” vehicle stops are one of the most dangerous functions a law enforcement officer conducts. It’s an unfortunate fact that police officers are killed, or seriously injured, every year while conducting traffic stops.
What steps can you take, as a law-abiding person, to help reduce the stress and danger involved with police vehicle stops?
Here are a few general ideas suggested by some law enforcement:
1. It is important to understand why a police officer may be stopping you in the first place. Law enforcement may not only your vehicle stop if they observe a traffic or equipment violation, but also because your vehicle may match one used in a crime, or they may want to warn you about a potentially dangerous situation, or the officer thinks you may need help, or you may have witnessed a crime.
2. When you see the blue and/or red overhead flashing lights (and/or hear a siren), remain calm, slow down and pull over in a safe location off the roadway.
A Quick Security Tip: Some states may use only red, or only blue, or a combination of both colors for police emergency lighting so be sure to check with the jurisdiction in which you are traveling for this important information.
3. Please do not exit your vehicle unless you are asked to do so. This is both for your safety and for the safety of the law enforcement officer. Anyone exiting their car during a vehicle stop will make an officer very nervous. Remember, the police do not know what condition you are in, who you are, or what may happen next. Don’t exacerbate the situation.
4. Keep your hands in plain view by placing them on the steering wheel so the law enforcement officer can see them.
5. If you are stopped at night, please turn on your interior lights, i.e., dome light.
6. Be sure to inform the officer if you have any weapons in the vehicle and their location. Do not reach or point to the weapon’s location.
7. Avoid any sudden movements, especially toward the floorboard, rear seat, or passenger side of the vehicle.
8. Please comply with the law enforcement officer’s request to see your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance information.
Quick Security Tip: If any of these documents are out of reach, please tell the officer where they are located before you get them.
9. It is best to answer all questions honestly, and to avoid becoming argumentative with the officer.
10. If the police officer does issue you a citation, and if you don’t understand the reason, please cordially ask the officer for details of your violation.
A Quick Security Tip: Remember, in general, if you disagree with the violation, you will have the chance to address the issue in court.
11. If the law enforcement officer asks you to sign the citation, please do so.
A Quick Security Tip: In general, signing a ticket is not an admission of your guilt, and in some states, your refusal to sign a citation could result in your arrest.
12. In general, you have the right to politely refuse a request by a law enforcement officer to search your vehicle unless probable cause exists. Then the officer has the right to search your vehicle without your consent.
13. Almost always, a police officer will provide you with his or her name and the reason you are being stopped, upon request.
14. If an unmarked police car signals you to pull you over, especially at night, and you are not sure the person is a law enforcement officer, please put on your four-way (hazard) flashers and dome light, and slowly drive to the closest well-lit public area. If you still are not comfortable with the situation, you may ask the officer for a marked police vehicle to stand by during your stop.
If you have a complaint about your treatment during a traffic stop, contact the officer’s law enforcement agency within a reasonable amount of time and ask to speak with a supervisor.
On the other hand, if you have a compliment about the officer, please be sure to take a moment and write a letter of appreciation to the officer’s department.
This is very general information, so please be sure to check for your local law enforcement agencies for details on what you should do — and not do — during a police traffic stop in your area.
My Final Thoughts: Please remember that when a law enforcement officer pulls you over, he does not know whether you are a law-abiding person or a wanted murderer. That is why he or she must take reasonable steps for the safety of all parties involved, including himself or herself.
It is a good idea, therefore, to be cooperative and polite during a vehicle stop. If you are courteous to the officer, he or she will, in the great majority of cases, be professional and respectful toward you.
Copyright 2010 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce (www.CrimeZilla.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.
This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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