Hello again, and welcome to Ask CCPD #2! This week's question comes from Steve via our website:
"With everything we see on the news about how dangerous traffic stops can be for officers (and for citizens if things go bad), could you give us a primer on what we should or maybe more importantly, SHOULDN'T do if we are pulled over?"
Steve, excellent question about what is likely the most common interaction between citizens and the police. We'll start with when those dreaded red and blue lights show up in your rearview mirror. Pull over (preferably to the right unless road conditions make this impossible), as far off the roadway as you can. If there is a parking lot there, even better. The location of the stop is important for everyone's safety, driver and officer. We've all seen the "wildest police videos" of cars slamming into traffic stops, and it does happen.
Once you're safely pulled over, make sure you put your car in park. Officers will notice if you leave it in drive with your foot on the brake like many of us may naturally do; the officer might think it more likely that you're going to do something foolish, like run.
Don't worry about gathering things like your license and registration yet, not while pulling over and not once stopped; wait until the officer asks for it. Movement inside the car could indicate hiding something, or reaching for something that could be a license....or a gun. Keep your hands in plain sight (which is usually on the steering wheel) and wait for the officer to approach you. If you reach for anything ahead of time, make it your interior dome lights (if it's nighttime). It can be hard to see into cars at night with the dark and glare of lights, and turning on the dome light and making your interior more visible will be much appreciated.
The officer should identify him/herself, state their agency, and tell you the reason they have pulled you over. They will ask if you have your license, registration, and possibly insurance card with you. Don't reach for it without asking first, or being asked to retrieve it by the officer; you could say "Yes, it is in my wallet. May I get it for you?" The idea here is no surprises; the officer needs to know where your hands are and what they are reaching for at all times.
Sometimes we hear from citizens regarding an officer's demeanor on a traffic stop, that they were harsh or stern. We strive to be as friendly as possible, but keep in mind a traffic stop is a high-risk situation where the officer must be on alert. We never know who we are pulling over, and sadly officers are always being shot at on these stops around the country. No traffic stop is routine, because we don't know how it will go until it's completed. If the officer comes across as stern, it is just their state of "high-alert" showing through.
Keep your hands visible even when the officer returns to his vehicle with your license and paperwork. He or she will come back and in most cases have either a warning (written or verbal) or a citation (ticket). If you get a ticket, the officer should explain to you the options you have for handling it (paying it, requesting traffic court to contest it, or requesting the online driving course that can keep points off your license). Once everything is done, make sure you put your blinker on and merge back into traffic safely.
No one likes being pulled over, but it is our job and duty to make sure drivers are following the rules of the road. None of us want to work a crash with injuries that resulted from speed, or running a stop sign or red light. We want you to get home to your families safely, and that's why traffic enforcement is so necessary. Follow the tips in this blog, be polite, and cooperate with the officer, and the experience of being pulled over can be a much less stressful experience for everyone.
Thank you again to all of you who submitted questions, and keep them coming! You can submit your questions by visiting the Ask CCPD section of our website. See you next week!
About the author:
Corporal Philip Mullen is a nine year law enforcement veteran assigned to the Office of the Chief of Police and serves as Assistant Public Affairs Officer for the Cape Coral Police Department.
For the last 9 years, Corporal Mullen served as a Patrol Officer in our Patrol Bureau, and as a Field Training Officer, preparing new recruits for the rigors of police work over the past 5 years. Corporal Mullen is a member of the Cape Coral Police Department Honor Guard and has represented the Cape Coral Police Department across the United States. He is a recipient of two Lifesaving Awards and the department's highest honor, the Medal of Honor. Phil holds a Bachelor's Degree in Public Safety Administration from Edison State College.