The Brookhaven College Police Department would like to offer these tips in the event you are stopped and/or questioned by a police officer. These tips are to give you an understanding of law enforcement concerns and practices to avoid any unnecessary confrontations or misunderstandings. This is meant to be just information, not legal advice. The goals of these tips are to improve police-community relations and avoid any unnecessary conflict or injury to the officer or the citizen. This information will hopefully reduce any stress that an encounter with a police officer might cause you and at the same time give you insight into the concerns and procedures of the officers.
If You Are Stopped by the Police While in Your Car
- Upon seeing police emergency lights, pull your vehicle as far over to the right as you can and stop as soon as it is safe to do so.
- Remain in your vehicle while the officer approaches unless you are instructed to exit the vehicle. Exiting your vehicle might be perceived as a threat to the officer’s safety and cause an unneeded safety concern.
- If stopped at night, turn on the interior lights of the vehicle. This will increase the visibility inside your vehicle, so the officer will be able to see better and be less stressed over anything that you might be reaching for that he can’t see.
- Keep your hands visible, preferably on the steering wheel so that the approaching officer can see them. If you do reach for something, inform the officer of what you are retrieving, where you are retrieving it from, what he or she might expect to see in this location. Don’t make any sudden or threatening movements while retrieving these items. Reaching for something suddenly or reaching into an unusual location, for example under the seat, will cause the officer concern that you might be reaching for a weapon.
- When asked for your driver’s license and insurance retrieve them in a timely manner, and the officer will then inform you of the reason you are being stopped. Please, do not ask why you are being stopped before you retrieve these items. This is to avoid debating the reason for the stop prior to acquiring this necessary information.
- Always answer the officer’s questions honestly and do not become argumentative, disorderly, or abusive even if you feel that you are being treated unfairly. The side of the road where the officer is exposed to oncoming traffic is not the place for an argument. Your best alternative is to dispute the ticket in court.
- If you are asked to exit the vehicle, do so slowly and without any movements that could be perceived as a threat to the officer’s safety.
- Never touch, threaten, or act in a disorderly manner toward an officer because it could result in additional charges being filed against you.
- Always give the officer his personal space. The recommended amount of space is not less than two and a half to three feet. This is the officer’s safety zone. If the officer asks you to stay where you are or takes a step back from you, do not continue to get closer to him. He will likely perceive this as threatening and it could result in an unneeded safety concern.
Don’t Be Offended
Most citizens understand that law enforcement is a difficult and dangerous profession. Hundreds of police officers are killed each year, and thousands more are injured or assaulted in the line of duty. For these reasons, police officers tend to be extremely cautious. Officers place a great deal of emphasis on safety and are trained in specific safety procedures early in their careers. Although these procedures maximize safety for the officers, citizens might perceive them as the officer being standoffish, impolite or offensive, but that is not the intention. Even though you have no intention of harming the officer, the officer might maintain a defensive posture until he/she feels that there is no risk of harm or injury. As far as police officers are concerned, no traffic stop is ’routine;’ the potential for danger is always there.
What Not To Do If You See a Police Officer Conducting a Traffic Stop
If an officer is conducting a traffic stop and you are not in the vehicle that is being stopped, do not make contact with the officer in any way. A traffic stop already is dangerous for the officer and he/she needs to be able to focus on those in the vehicle. Distracting the officer only adds concerns for another person’s safety into what already may be a tense situation. Here are a few things that you should not do if you see an officer conducting a traffic stop.
- Do not approach the officer’s police car. This is for the officer’s safety as well as yours. The officer could perceive you walking toward his vehicle as a threat to his/her safety which might cause an unneeded confrontation. If you need an officer’s assistance while at the college, you may call dispatch at 972-860-4290, and they will assign another officer to assist you.
- Do not approach the violator’s vehicle. If you need something from the person in the car, you can contact him or her once the stop is concluded and the officer has left the scene.
- Do not walk between the police car and the vehicle being stopped. This presents a dangerous situation for you that could result in serious injury or an unneeded confrontation.
If you are parked in a parking space that is being blocked by the traffic stop, please be patient. The officer will either notice you and move the police car or move the police car as soon as the stop is concluded.
If the Police Approach You on the Street
Innocent individuals are often offended, angered, or both, because an officer stops them for questioning. The delay might be an inconvenience for you, but an office will not stop you without the belief that there is reasonable suspicion to stop and question you. Most of these stops are not officer initiated, they are the result of an individual letting us know of an incident that occurred, or the officers are responding to a dispatch call. Below are some of the more common reasons an officer might stop and question you.
- A crime might have recently occurred in the vicinity and you are the only person visible in that area.
- You might be wearing similar clothing or fit the description of a suspect in a crime.
- Someone might have called the police to report your presence, most likely reporting that you looked ‘suspicious.’
- Someone might have pointed you out to the officer.
- The officer might consider your actions suspicious or you might act more suspicious realizing the officer is observing you.
The officer does not wish to detain you longer than is necessary, and once it is determined you are not who he or she is looking for the officer will likely apologize for the inconvenience and quickly leave to resume the search.
In All Police Encounters
- Avoid making sudden movements (i.e. reaching for wallet, into your coat, toward your waistband, etc.) until you inform the officer of your intentions and the officer says it is okay.
- Do not carry weapons, or even joke about having a weapon on your person.
- Do not touch the officer or violate his safety zone (2½ - 3 feet) as this could cause an unneeded safety concern.
- Remain calm, do not argue with the officer or refuse to answer reasonable questions as this may cause the officer to become more suspicious, causing the encounter to last longer than needed.
- Comply first, if you need an explanation or have concerns, you may bring these up with the officer or his supervisor later.
We understand that contact with a police officer at times can cause a citizen to come away with feelings of frustration. The Brookhaven College Police Department does not condone police misconduct of any type. We understand that for most citizens the negative feelings they are left with after having contact with a police officer, stem from frustration of not knowing the reason the officer has made certain requests or acted in a particular manner towards them. Unfortunately, the demands of a police officer’s job do not always allow the time for an explanation at the time you are stopped. We hope that with this information you might gain a better understanding of police procedures, and it will help to reduce the stress or frustration you might be feeling after being stopped by a police officer.