Across the country, there have been several tragic incidents resulting from contact between citizens and police officers. The Middlesex County College Police Department and its members are concerned and would like to avoid having these types of situations occur on our campus. For this reason, we have developed this information to help our citizens better understand what to expect from a police officer should they ever be stopped and/or questioned. A familiarity with law enforcement concerns and practices will help avert needless confrontation or misunderstandings.
While we cannot give specific guidelines for citizens in handling contact with police, the following suggestions are beneficial. The Middlesex County College Police Department places a great value on maintaining positive police community relations, and to have contacts and interviews resolved without unnecessary conflict or injury to either the officer or the citizen. Hopefully, this information will help minimize your stress and anxiety during contact with the police and, at the same time, give you insight into the concerns and procedures of the officers.
1. As soon as you notice the police emergency lights, pull your vehicle over to the right and stop immediately.
2. Remain in your vehicle while the officer approaches.
3. Turn on your interior light if stopped at night.
4. Keep your hands easily observable, preferably on the steering wheel where they can be easily seen by the approaching officer.
5. Give your license and proof of insurance to the officer, if asked to do so.
6. If you wish to inquire as to why you were stopped or offer an explanation, do so before the officer returns to his or her vehicle.
Whether an officer issues you a ticket or gives you a warning is entirely up to their individual discretion. Your conduct during the stop may influence the officer’s decision.
Most citizens already realize that law enforcement is a difficult and dangerous profession. Scores of police officers are killed each year, and hundreds more are injured and assaulted. For these reasons, police officers tend to be extremely cautious. They place a great deal of emphasis on officer safety and survival. Certain safety practices are instilled in our officers from the first day of their careers. Although the procedures maximize safety for the officer, they may seem standoffish, impolite, or offensive to citizens who may not consider such precautions necessary with “them.” Even though you have no intention of doing the officer harm, he or she will probably maintain a defensive posture until the officer feels that there is no risk of confrontation or injury. As far as police officers are concerned, there is no such thing as a “routine” traffic stop. Every stop has the potential for danger.
Innocent individuals are often offended or angered, or both, because an officer has detained them for questioning. Although the delay might be inconvenient for you, the officer believes there is a reason (reasonable suspicion) to stop you and ask questions. Most of these stops are not officer initiated. The most common reasons that cause an officer to stop someone are as follows:
The police officer does not wish to detain you any longer than necessary. Once the officer is able to determine that you are not the individual that he or she is looking for, the officer will often apologize for the inconvenience and then quickly leave to resume the search.
There may be times when citizens have contact with the police and come away with feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction. The Middlesex County College Police Department does not condone police misconduct of any type. In our experience, we have learned that those negative feelings are often a result of not knowing the reason(s) an officer has made certain requests or acted in a certain manner. Unfortunately, demands on a patrol officer do not always permit time for explanations at the time you are stopped. Hopefully, the information presented here will give you an understanding of police procedures and let you know what to expect from a police officer if you are stopped.