by Jeronimo Gil
You had a great game, went out with some of the team to get something to eat, and now headed home. You had one beer with your nachos, so you aren’t drunk. Your phone buzzes and you look down at the text message that pops up. The chirping siren snaps your head up to the red and blue flashing lights in your rear-view mirror. Getting pulled over gets your heart racing, and it can be very dangerous. No matter how much training they have or how good they are, the initial contact is where things usually go bad for an officer, this is where they can get killed. “I know my rights” is not the best way to start an interaction.
First, if you are pulled over in your car, stopped while walking, or anything similar, you are detained. A detention is where an officer has reasonable suspicion you have committed a crime or are about to commit a crime (this includes a traffic violation). You can be handcuffed on a detention, handcuffs do NOT mean you have been arrested. If an officer places you in their car, handcuffed, while they complete their investigation, does NOT mean you have been arrested. That still falls under detention. Detention and Arrest are different, where arrest requires Probable Cause (actual facts) for an officer to take you to jail.
Being the good citizen you are, with your tell-tale heart doing an impression of a machine gun in your throat, you pull over. Bright lights fill your mirrors and you are blinded. Suddenly, there’s a knock on your driver’s door window. The cold autumn air blasts the left side of your face as you roll the window down. At this point, and this is important, keep your hands visible.
“Do you know why I stopped you?” asks the officer who, by the way, is also feeling the cold you just felt. “I know my rights” is not the best way to start an interaction with a police officer. Some people will tell all, from the rolling through a stop sign, texting while driving, speeding to cheating on their diet. Be smart and simply respond “No, sir” or “No, Ma’am”. The officer will give you some direction(s). License, registration or step out of the vehicle. This is the dangerous part, so JUST DO WHAT YOU ARE ASKED. It’s not complicated. This is for EVERYBODY’s safety. Senator Bernie Sanders just made a statement to a student to “Respect the police to avoid being shot in the back of the head”.
Do you have the right to know why you are detained? Yes … BUT! … Do what you are asked first. Stand still, comply with the officer and LISTEN. The detaining officer will tell you what he wants from you. You will have a chance to explain and/or ask questions – LATER.
If you have a passenger(s) who starts mouthing off and arguing about rights or whatever, tell him or her to SHUT UP! They are NOT helping you, and are probably talking your way into a ticket or worse. They won’t get the citation, you will.
So you have complied with the officer and shown some of the respect that the parents taught you. Nice. The officer will start to relax a little and now it becomes a conversation. The officer may run your identification and/or explain why you have been stopped. If you have a compelling reason for whatever “I am sorry officer, I was speeding because …” now would be the time. Don’t get argumentative, you have already lost the argument, so you just make things worse.
I once stopped a man driving a Toyota Prius. He was all over the road, back and forth between two lanes. I stopped him thinking he might be driving under the influence and dangerous to be on the street. He pulled over, was very respectful and did everything I asked. I asked him if he knew why I had stopped him and he responded “Because I was all over the road?” He was aware of what he was doing, so I then asked why? He stated that he had just recently purchased his car and he was avoiding pot-holes in the street. I looked back along the poorly maintained Los Angeles street and all minefield of pot-holes. That gentleman was thanked for his time and sent on his way without a citation. The point is, make sure you have a reason for what you did. If you don’t, stay quiet.
Keep this in mind with police interactions: The police are not the bad guys. They are not picking on you, there is a reason they stopped you. Police work is not a “customer is always right” service. Whatever attitude you treat the officer with, you will definitely get it back. If you are argumentative, you lose that argument. If you offer respect, you will receive respect. If, for any reason, you have an issue, do not argue with an officer, ask to speak with a supervisor. If it’s legitimate, something will be done. If it’s not legitimate and you are just butt-hurt and a jerk, you may have a citation to remind you.
Jeronimo Gil is a Sergeant of Police in Los Angeles, California