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Cooperate when you get stopped
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Being stopped by the police is a stressful event for most people, and at the same time, there are many dangers for the police. Not only do they not know who they are dealing with, but the officers also are in danger of being struck by passing traffic. To make these police-citizen contacts as safe as possible, officers need the cooperation of motorists.

The first thing to keep in mind is that a motorist is required by law to "immediately drive to the right-hand edge or curb of the highway, clear of any intersection and thereupon shall stop and remain stopped." An officer may give verbal directions by using a loudspeaker to do otherwise, but absent those instructions, motorists must stop without delay. To do otherwise will prompt suspicions that the motorist does not intend to stop, is attempting to conceal illegal items or substances, or is preparing to attack the officer.

There are at least several different reasons why a motorist gets stopped. The most obvious is for a traffic violation, but it could also be that the officer believes the motorist needs assistance, is wanted for a crime, the vehicle matches the description of a vehicle involved in a crime, or the motorist is a possible witness to a crime.

Unfortunately, in most traffic stop situations, the police tend to be "matter of fact" during the first few moments in order to assess the relative safety of the situation, and determine who they are dealing with in the context of any threats the person(s) may pose. Usually, once those initial moments have passed, the motorist is being cooperative, and the officer has the person's driver's license, vehicle registration and insurance papers, the "tone" of their interaction with the motorist will become a bit lighter. This behavior is brought about by the fact that some motorists are wanted criminals, others are waiting to harm a police officer and yet others are simply assaultive towards the police. The officers, therefore, must take a cautious approach initially when interacting with motorists while assessing the overall situation. The caution exercised by officers can make them appear "distant" and "cold," but I assure you it is not personal and they usually "warm up" several moments into the stop.

A motorist stopped by the police - besides being nervous or confused about why they were stopped - may also be angry or afraid. At the same time, many officers are killed, assaulted or otherwise harmed during traffic stops each year, so these are tense situations for them as well. Motorists who are cooperative will have the best interaction with the police, so here are some tips for when motorists are stopped by police:

• Pull over immediately, stay in your vehicle, keep your hands visible to the officer and do nothing until asked. It is best to reach for your license, registration, etc. only after the officer asks for it. Don't exit your vehicle, unless instructed to do so by the officer.

• Keep in mind that the "move over" law, which requires passing motorists to move to a lane away from where a traffic stop is being conducted. When passing a traffic stop, slow down to a safe speed if you are unable to move safely into another lane.

• Do not make any sudden movements.

• Do not insist on having the officer explain why you were stopped before providing your driver's license, registration and insurance card.

• If you are pulled over by an officer at night, turn on your interior lights so the officer can better see the inside of your vehicle and its occupants.

• Most police agencies have just one officer in each patrol car. For this reason, one or more cover units may show up, day or night, to provide additional safety for the officer. These cover officers help ensure that passing traffic poses no collision hazard and also serve as back-up in the event a motorist or passenger engages in combative behavior.

• Advise passengers to remain quiet and not interrupt the officer as he or she conducts business.

• If you have received a citation, you may ask for the reason(s), but do not expect to engage the officer in a "roadside hearing," as the appropriate place to contest the citation is in court.

• Keep in mind that signing the citation is not an admission of guilt; it is a promise to appear in court or otherwise properly comply with the results of the citation.

Being stopped by an officer is no fun, but traffic enforcement and stops are a necessary part of the law enforcement responsibilities. Police chiefs expect officers to exhibit professional and courteous behavior at all times, but they are allowed to be firm and direct, especially in situations where motorists or passengers pose a threat or are interfering with the officers' duties. Our goal is to keep roadways as safe as possible for the public and ensure our officers are able to go home to their families at the end of their shifts, unharmed and healthy.