I’m writing this in response to a gentleman who stated, “I’ve met my share of steroid-jacked asshole cops who threw me around like a toy.”
Naturally, my first inclination was to ask him, “And just WHY did they throw you around like a toy?” After all, in 50+ years of life, I’ve had perhaps 20 interactions with law enforcement, including driver’s education in high school, six moving traffic violations (I know, I know…), scenes of two accidents, noise complaints, domestic disturbance complaints, etc.
Not ONCE have I EVER been “thrown around like a toy.” I have, however, been detained on several occasions, usually just long enough to obtain statements from myself and others.
Here’s WHY those encounters went as smoothly as they did:
Use your blinkers, slow to a stop, put on your flashers, and keep both hands on top of the wheel. Do NOT reach for your wallet or registration in the glove compartment until AFTER the police officer is standing right there and asks you for your license and/or registration. If you’re reaching around in the car while you’re slowing down, he’s thinking one of three things:
- You’re nervous about something.
- You’re hiding something, perhaps drugs or a weapon.
- You’re arming yourself with a weapon.
Since none of these three things will help you one bit, here’s a tip:
DON’T DO IT.
Instead, by keeping your hands atop the steering wheel, you’re putting those legitimate concerns to rest. This is the crux of the matter. Not only do you want to provide law enforcement with no cause for concern, but you also do not want to give him anything which he may use against you later.
Roll down the window fully when asked.
Be polite, but let the officer do the talking. Nothing wrong with starting off with a, “Good morning/afternoon/evening, Officer,” but nix the “What seems to be the problem?” and “How may I help you?” comments.
Never argue. Not only will you never win, but if you become upset or angry about it, you raise concerns in their mind about your ability to safely drive several thousands pounds of motor vehicle on public roads.
Instead, remember all details and write them out as soon as you can, as in the very next coffee shop. Go over it later, type it up, and use it in court.
Above all else, COMPLY with ALL reasonable orders, including orders to get out, lay face down on the pavement, hands on the hood, hands behind your back/on your head, walk this line, etc. If you have problems following these orders, here’s a tip: Remain inside and never go out in public.
Seriously: Lawful orders are lawful orders. Your city/town council and/or state legislature wrote them. They were signed into law by your mayor or governor. It’s the law. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Disagreement with the law is no excuse. All citizens are required by law to follow the law, and that law grants law enforcement officers to give you certain lawful orders with which you must comply. If you refuse, they can indeed and quite lawfully arrest you. If you resist arrest in any way, shape, manner or form, they can indeed and quite lawfully use varying levels of force to subdue you.
Like it or not, that is the law.
Back to the traffic stop…
Answer legitimate questions HONESTLY, but don’t incriminate yourself. If you’re asked, “Do you know how fast you were going?” don’t say, “No” if you know you were going 63 in a 55 zone. They can later claim in court you didn’t know how fast you were going. But incriminating yourself by blurting out, “63!” isn’t advisable, either, so…
- Q: “Do you know why I pulled you over / stopped you today?”
- A: “No Sir.” How could you know that? Your head/tail light might be out. Your vehicle may match the description of a stolen vehicle. This is a common tactic to get you to admit to something. Even something minor could give them probable cause to search your vehicle. Why do that?
- Q: “Do you know how fast you were going?”
- A: “Yes.” That’s it, and THAT IS ALL.
- Q: “Well, how fast do you think you were going?”
- A1: If you were going the speed limit, then say, “The speed limit.” If you were under the speed limit, then say, “Under the speed limit.”
- A2: If you were speeding, do not answer, as any answer below the speed limit constitutes lying to an officer of the law and any answer over the speed limit is an admission of guilt. But ignoring the question altogether is not only impolite, but it gives the officer grounds to assess you as “unresponsive,” which means he’s then obligated to remove you from driving until he’s further assessed that you’re not a hazard to others. Try this, instead: “I prefer not to say.”
- Q: “Would you mind if I searched your vehicle?”
- A: The answer to this one depends on the nature of the stop and the laws in your state. If you refuse, you’re likely to be required to leave your vehicle until the officers either sniff it with a drug dog or decide it’s not worth their trouble. As I’m a squeaky clean kind of guy, both times I’ve been asked that, I said, “You have my consent to search my vehicle,” and both times the police officer rolled his eyes and said, “You’re free to go.”
In all, be polite, remain respectful, comply with all lawful orders, and your odds of leaving the scene without having been “thrown around like a toy” will have been VASTLY improved.
SUSPICION OF POLICE IMPERSONATOR
This is actually a thing in our state, as every decade multiple knuckleheads dress up a vehicle in police style, buy the uniform, and pull over and assault or rape people, if not worse. So, here’s what you do:
Use your blinker to signal to the right. When you’re in the right lane, slow down to between 5 and 10 below the speed limit and put on your flashers. Call 911. Tell them you’re being pulled over and are concerned about police impersonators. They’ll ask your position and check their system. As police call in before making a stop, if they’re legitimate, they’ll be in 911’s system. If 911 tells you the stop is legit, turn off your flashers, turn on your blinker, pull over, stop, and put your flashers back on. Proceed as above.
ALL OTHER STOPS AND INTERACTIONS
Same as with traffic stops: Be polite. Be respectful. Be honest, but don’t incriminate yourself.
Realize you are being detained by the police until they say you’re cleared to leave.
- Know the law.
- Do not violate the law.
- Be polite.
- Be respectful.
- Don’t incriminate yourself.
The overwhelming majority of people in law enforcement are there because they believe in their job. They’ve shouldered the duty of protecting and serving their communities against those who chose not to follow the law. If you’re one of those who doesn’t like following the law, by definition, you’re a criminal and you will probably not enjoy your contact with law enforcement. If you instead choose to follow the laws, however, and you conduct yourself like a responsible citizen, your outcome will probably be better.