Goshen News, Goshen, IN

October 11, 2013

ASK THE SHERIFF: What motorists should do if pulled over by a police officer

By TOM YODER
THE GOSHEN NEWS

— What should a driver expect from an officer on a typical traffic stop and what should persons do to help the traffic stop go well for the officer and the driver?

With emphasis on public safety, a police officer’s daily task often involves traffic stops. A traffic stop occurs when an officer has reason to believe that a traffic violation has occurred or that criminal activity could be or is occurring.

For the police officer, a traffic stop is never routine.

THERE ARE two types of stops: Unknown risk and high risk.

The unknown risk is the most common and the focus of today’s column. The risk is unknown because the officer does not know whether the vehicle they are stopping for a mere traffic violation has a driver or passengers who just committed a serious crime and have no intention of cooperating and could harm the officer. Or, the vehicle has an otherwise law-abiding citizen who had a momentary lapse in judgment and every intention to cooperate and would never harm an officer. The officer does not know until they approach the vehicle.

At least 30 percent of all officers killed in the line of duty are killed on traffic stops. It’s no wonder that officers are trained to be cautious and are often perceived by the general public as rude or discourteous, when in reality the officer is being firm and professional.

For example, an officer approaching a stopped vehicle may have his hand on his holstered firearm. This does not mean he is looking for a fight or threatening you. Rather, the officer has placed their hand in the location that best suits surviving a deadly force encounter with little notice in the unknown risk situation.

FOR PEOPLE who get stopped by a police officer, you should stay inside your vehicle unless otherwise told by the officer. Police officers control the encounter, not only to protect you from stepping into traffic, but to provide the officer with a tactical advantage.

Before the officer approaches, a driver should gather their driver’s license and registration/insurance card. As the officer approaches place your hands on the steering wheel. Officers know that hands facilitate harm toward an officer. Whether it is knife, firearm or a closed fist, if the officer observes the hands, they can assess if a threat is immediately present.

Being honest with the officer may result in a warning being issued. Typically the difference between a warning and ticket is the seriousness of the violation, the driver’s record (including if other warnings were given prior to the stop) and the attitude of the driver.

Depending on the officer, some have zero tolerance for certain violations, examples of which might include child restraint, passing a school bus while loading/unloading, operating a vehicle while intoxicated and train signal violations.

BE COURTEOUS. If you disagree with your ticket, the street is not the time to argue. If you have an issue with the officer’s conduct, file a complaint with the law enforcement agency. If you would like to challenge the allegation, you have every right to appear in court to present your case.

Lastly, drivers who have a good experience or want to be respectful toward the officer may offer to shake hands at the end of the encounter. Do not be offended if the officer respectfully declines and avoids physical contact, primarily to avoid reducing the distance we call the “reactionary gap” if defensive actions need to be taken by the officer.

If desired, simply provide an officer your compliment and greeting, and proceed on your way.

Ask-the-Sheriff a question by emailing Sheriff Brad Rogers at brogers@elkhartcountysheriff.com.