Some of the more common questions about police procedure have to do with traffic stops.
When a lot of the public’s perceptions about police officers and police procedures are derived from television, citizens often have a difficult time knowing which procedure is real and which is fiction.
For some, the only interactions they have with a police officer is during a traffic stop.
The first question that a police officer hears from a motorist during a stop is usually, “Why did you stop me?”
Some of the more common reasons for a motor vehicle stop include:
- Running a red light
- Not stopping for a pedestrian in a crosswalk
- Passing a school bus that is loading or unloading students
- Weaving, swerving, or failing to drive in marked lanes
- Defective equipment (one headlight, no brake lights, broken windshield, etc)
- Expired license plates
- Expired inspection sticker
COURTESY, SAFETY, OR CONCERN
- Maybe your trunk is open or something is hanging from under your vehicle. You could be leaking gasoline or have left some groceries on your roof – don’t laugh, it happens!
What to do if you are pulled over by the police
- PULL AS FAR OFF THE ROAD AS POSSIBLE
- This sends a message to the officer that you care about his/her safety. It’s also good to turn on your emergency flashers.
- KEEP THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION OPEN
- Relax – Don’t jump all over the officer
- Be calm
- Be polite
- TURN ON YOUR INTERIOR LIGHT
- This also shows the officer that you are concerned for his/her safety and helps with communication.
STAY INSIDE YOUR CAR
- NEVER exit your car unless you are asked to do so by the officer. Let the officer come to you.
KEEP YOUR HANDS IN PLAIN VIEW
- Let the officer ask for your drivers’ license and registration. This way, there is no misunderstanding. Also, if you do not have your seatbelt fastened, don’t try to do it now. The officer may think you are trying to conceal a weapon or other item. Remember, the officer doesn’t know who you are at this point and may feel threatened by any furtive movements.
Frequently asked questions
Q: I was only stopped for a minor offense, why did two or three other Police Officers show up or drive by?
A: Officers in the vicinity of a traffic stop routinely stop and check on a brother or sister officer conducting a motor vehicle stop – it’s for officer safety!
Q: Why did the officer “sneak up” along side of my car?
A: Police Officers are trained to minimize their exposure to traffic to keep from getting hit by passing vehicles. Also, Officers don’t know who you are; you may be a wanted felon on the run. The Officer is just being cautious and trying to assess the stop. Once the Officer feels that there is little danger, he/she will show himself/herself.
Q: Why do officers stay in their car so long? What are they doing?
A: The Officer is “running” or verifying the information you provided him/her with. National and Statewide computer checks are being processed and that takes a couple of minutes. Just try to be patient!
Q: The Police Officer wrote me a ticket and I feel that I didn’t deserve it. What should I do?
A: If you don’t agree with a ticket that an Officer wrote you, the side of the road is NOT the place to contest it. Every person that is issued a ticket has a right to an appeal. Simply fill out the rear of the ticket and send it in for an appeal. In six to eight weeks you will receive a summons to appear at a Clerk Magistrate’s hearing. There you will be given an opportunity to state your case. ONCE AN OFFICER ISSUES A TICKET, HE/SHE CANNOT TAKE IT BACK. THE ONLY PERSON THAT CAN DISMISS A TICKET IS A CLERK MAGISTRATE OR A JUDGE. REMEMBER
Police Officers are trained to ask for your ID first and provide an explanation for the stop second. Once you provide the officer with your proper paperwork, he/she will give you the reason for the stop. Most officers wear a nametag on their uniform, so you have the advantage of knowing whom you are dealing with. Extend to the officer the courtesy of providing him/her with your ID without argument – It’s the law!