As a result of social media, the news and police “reality” shows, we have all seen a routine traffic stop by a police officer escalate to a point where either the officer or an individual is fatally injured. In order to help prevent such tragic results, I am writing this article to provide information to citizens in an effort to avoid such an outcome.
Because I represent a number of law enforcement officers, I often times see things from their point of view as well as from the view of an average citizen. The bottom line is that a law enforcement officer who is effectuating a traffic stop is genuinely concerned for the safety of the driver and occupants of the vehicle as well as his or her own safety. Typically, if various simple protocols are followed by both the law enforcement officer as well as the citizen, a safe outcome is more than likely.
First and foremost, when you are being pulled over, you should immediately acknowledge the fact that you are aware that you are being pulled over by placing on your turn signal. Thereafter, you should attempt to pull onto a portion of the side of the road that fully removes both your vehicle and the police vehicle from the traveled portion of the roadway (i.e.-shoulder).
After both you and the police vehicle are safely off of the roadway, you should open your driver’s side window and place both of your hands upon the steering wheel so that the officer can visually observe both of your hands as he or she is approaching you. Often times, people make the mistake of reaching across their vehicle into their glove compartment or into their pockets for purposes of getting out their license, registration and insurance card as the officer is approaching their vehicle. Although law enforcement officers are highly trained in this regard, depending on the circumstances, they could potentially believe that you or the occupants of your vehicle are attempting to reach for a weapon or hide contraband. Obviously, such actions could potentially escalate an otherwise innocuous situation.
After the officer approaches your vehicle and requests your documentation, you should verbally advise the officer as to where in your vehicle the documentation is located and advise the officer that you are reaching for it. This will allow the officer to anticipate your moves inside the vehicle so they are not surprised. Additionally, you should immediately respond to any of the officer’s requests. Failure to do so could be a signal to the officer that you are attempting to hide something or that the officer’s safety may be in jeopardy.
Importantly, when engaging in a conversation with the officer, you should be courteous and friendly regardless of whether or not you believe you committed a traffic offense. Of course, any aggressive or abusive language could cause to escalate the situation. From the officer’s perspective, he is only doing his job. Any arguments or positions you may have with respect to the situation are more properly raised in Municipal Court. From a lawyer’s perspective, it is generally much easier to have the summons dismissed outright or plea to a favorable deal when a client is courteous and respectful to the officer at the time the ticket is issued. On numerous occasions, I have seen law enforcement officers take notes when an individual is uncooperative, rude or abusive and then refuse to “work with” the prosecutor or the lawyer at the time a plea deal is sought.
Basically, all of the above boils down to common courtesy and common sense. If you follow the officer’s instructions, are respectful and do not engage in any actions which the officer may construe as jeopardizing his or her safety, there will be no issues concerning the traffic stop and you may receive the benefit of the doubt from the officer when it comes time to appear in traffic court. On the other hand, if you are disrespectful, rude, abusive, and aggressive, chances are that the situation will escalate to the point where you may receive additional charges and may even be subject to arrest.