What to Do When Stopped by the Police

Law Enforcement Officers stop people every day. It is a necessary part of their job. A person can be stopped while driving, walking down the street or be paid a visit at home. A person may be stopped or approached by law enforcement for many reasons including traffic violations, suspicious behavior, questioning as part of a criminal investigation or appearing to need help. Officers are required to respect people’s rights. These rights protect people from answering questions, other than those about identification, that a person may not wish to answer. These rights protect people from being held without probable cause or reasonable "articulable" suspicion and improper searches.

An officer can pull you over if there is a good reason to believe a law has been broken including Traffic Law violations, posing a hazard, suspicious activity, faulty equipment, or road blocks. If an officer has business with you, be sure you: Stay calm, do not become defensive or rude, give your name and address and show your identification, if requested. You do not have to answer any questions unless you want to. If you are not free to leave, by law you have the right to remain silent, and have a lawyer with you while you are being questioned. If you have a concern about how you are treated, you may file a complaint with the law enforcement agency or seek legal advice.

What should you do if you are stopped? Pull over to the right when it is safe to do so. Come to a complete stop. Turn the music down. Turn on the dome light if stopped at night or times of low visibility. Roll down your window, except in extreme conditions, and wait inside the vehicle for the officer. Listen for any instructions. Do not start things off poorly by making the officer tap on your window for a response. A simple infraction or misdemeanor can become heightened by behaving in this or a suspicious manner. Whatever he or she is stopping you for is usually not a big deal. Keep your hands in sight. Relax, and just wait for the officer's instructions. Tell the officer what you are reaching for before reaching for any items, especially in places out of the officer's view. If you have time, prior to the stop, have the driver's license, registration and insurance ready. Take the license out of your wallet to produce it. Do not hand the officer your wallet or attempt to show the officer the license through the wallet or window. "Yes sir" or "no sir," "yes ma'am" or "no ma'am" work quite well, by the way. Saying things like "But you don't understand, officer," "Yo, dude," and "I'm writing a letter - you'll see" will greatly increase your chances of getting a citation. Contrary to popular beliefs or opinions floating around on the internet, you do have to provide your identification when operating a motor vehicle. Failure to do so may be cause for an arrest, even when the initial violation was not an offense eligible for arrest. If you don't feel safe, politely explain to the officer that you do not feel safe and request to have a supervisor present. Officers should understand this and accommodate your request. Do take in consideration that this may greatly prolong the stop.

Use common sense. There was reasonable suspicion for the stop; don't make it probable cause for something more. You do have the right to record any public interaction with police. You do not have to inform the police that you are recording audio or video in public interactions. Be aware that sudden hand movements or reaching could be considered as a threat. If you get a citation and wish to fight it, get a lawyer and have him or her represent you in traffic court. Remember, the chances of you winning any argument or debate on the scene is likely not going to happen. That is what you will do when you have your day in court.

Tips & Warnings

If being stopped in the dark, feel free to turn on your flashers, slow down. Stop when the police initiate the lights. Police stop vehicles in certain places for a reason. Relax! The encounter might actually be helpful. Keep your hands visible. Do not argue. Do not get out of the car unless requested.

MISCONCEPTIONS can get you unnecessarily frustrated, scared or in a situation that is not in your best interest. Here a few misconceptions about police that we see on social media, and in conversations or debates.

1) Police Shoot to Kill.

Police shoot to incapacitate or stop a threat. This often requires the use of deadly force. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines deadly force as the force that a law enforcement officer uses with the purpose of causing, or that the officer knows to create a substantial risk of causing, death, or serious bodily harm.

2) Why don’t they shoot them in the leg?

The use of deadly force, if justified, is present when the situation is serious enough that the officer believes that if such force is not used, death or serious bodily injury may occur to the officer or another person. Shooting someone in the leg or arm or any other place with the intent to injure does not stop the threat. Law enforcement officers are trained to shoot center mass. That is the largest area of the body. Under stress, movement, or other environmental factors, shooting someone in the arm or leg or any place proves difficult, especially with a moving target. In most states, using deadly force to intentionally wound or injure (someone) so that part of the body is permanently damaged is maiming and illegal.

3) Why didn’t they read me my rights?

The U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, also known as the Miranda Warning, requires that officers let you know of four mandatory things after you are in custody or arrest, before they question you about a crime in which you are in custody for. An officer who is going to question you, other than basic identity information, interrogate you must convey to you that: 1) You have the right to remain silent. 2) If you do say anything, it can be used against you in a court of law. 3) You have the right to have a lawyer present during any questioning. 4) If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you if you so desire. It doesn't matter whether an interrogation occurs in a jail, at the scene of a crime, on a neighborhood street, or your private home. If a person is in custody, or deprived of his or her freedom which is tantamount to an arrest, a law enforcement officer must read the Miranda rights before asking questions that may be used as evidence in a court trial. If an officer does not ask those questions, interview or interrogation, Miranda rights does not have to be read.

4) Don't they need a warrant?

Police officers do not need an arrest warrant for any crime committed in their presence or view. Police officers do not need an arrest warrant to enter a private home if the officer is in fresh pursuit of person wanted for a crime. A judge issues a search warrant to authorize law enforcement officers to search a particular location and seize specific items. To obtain a search warrant, police must show probable cause that a crime was committed and that items connected to the crime are likely to be found in the place specified by the warrant. However, there are circumstances which a police officer may search without a warrant. Search Incident to Arrest: Police officers do not need a warrant to search a person in connection with an arrest. If you are arrested for a crime, a police officer has the right to search for weapons, evidence that may be destroyed and also accomplices to the crime who may be hiding or avoiding apprehension.

5) I have the right to resist arrest?

You do have the right to resist an UNLAWFUL ARREST in some cases. With that being said, if you decide to resist any arrest, you better be sure that you know that the arrest is unlawful and be aware of the laws regarding resisting arrest in your state. An unlawful arrest is not an arrest that you necessarily disagree with or an arrest where you may be innocent of any wrongdoing. An unlawful arrest would have to be a situation where the actions of the law enforcement officer is so criminally egregious, or exceeds the scope of his powers, jurisdiction and authority.

6) I have freedom of speech to say what I want.

As an American citizen, you have a Constitutional right to free speech. You DO have the freedom to say whatever you want. However, that does not mean you are free from the consequences of such speech. You can't yell "FIRE!" in a crowded movie theater. You don't have the right to make certain threats. Unless you are a student of the law or a law professional, it is best you to remain silent.


Most times, fighting and arguing with the police on the scene is not the best solution. Chances are you will not win the argument or you may put yourself in more harm than expected. Citizen complaints may be received anonymously, via telephone, mail, or electronically and at any time, location, or office of this department, regardless of where the alleged violation occurred. Will be treated as confidential information. Must be investigated. You may contact the officer’s immediate supervisor, shift lieutenant, captain or the Internal Affairs Section of that agency. You may consult with a private attorney, or consult with the States’ Attorney’s Office or consult with the State Attorney General’s Office. 


Get involved. Attend your community association meetings. Attend your local Police – Community Relations Council meetings. Attend various forums for discussions. The House of Otem may host periodic forums on police-community relations. Know your rights.

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