Sheriff Sproul: What To Do If You Get Pulled Over

Sheriff Kevin Sproul

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Today, more than ever, it is important to have clear expectations whenever a citizen has an encounter with law enforcement. The vast majority of those encounters occur as traffic stops. Anyone who has been pulled over knows the stress associated with that encounter. Most do not know the stress placed on law enforcement officers when they conduct a traffic stop. Even if the stop is for a minor violation, the officer does not know what they may encounter. Offenders such as Ted Bundy, Timothy McVeigh, Joel Rifkin, and David Berkowitz were all arrested pursuant to a simple traffic stop. Officers are taught that no traffic stop is “routine” and that they should always be on alert during the encounter.

As a citizen, one should expect that the officer is going to be suspicious and looking to see if there are any signs of criminal activity. Officers, however, should be polite and respectful. In an effort to reduce any possible suspicion and keep the stress level as low as possible, here is a list of ten things a citizen can do:

1. Carry proper identification: a valid driver’s license and vehicle registration.

2. When being signaled to pullover, look for nearest place to position your vehicle as far out of the lane of traffic as possible.  Generally, pull off to the right side of the road or to where the shoulder is widest, unless otherwise directed.  Use your signal, then turn on your hazard lights.

3. Don’t appear to ignore the patrol vehicle, if you don’t feel safe stopping at that particular location, slow down and turn on your emergency flashers until you get to a better-lit or more safe area.  That lets the officer know you intend to stop once you feel more comfortable with the location.

4. Stay in your vehicle.  If you are asked to exit the vehicle, do so slowly keeping your hands clearly visible.

5. For safety purposes, understand that an officer will leave his/her headlights and spotlights on when it’s dark.  It helps to illuminate the interior of your car.  You can assist by turning on your interior lights.

6. Do not duck down or make sudden movements, especially toward the floor, rear or passenger seats.  The officer may interpret these movements as an attempt to obtain a weapon or hide illegal items.  It is best to always keep your hands in view and request your passengers do the same.  Wait for the officer to request your identification, then move to get it. Tell the officer where it is, if it is out of reach.

7. Turn off your engine.  Also, if in use, turn off your radio and end the call on your cell phone.  Completely roll down your window so you and the officer can communicate, but only after you are satisfied that the officer is genuine.

8. You do NOT have the right to see the radar.  Many are confused about this, but in Georgia there is no right to see the radar unit.  You may ask that the officer check the unit’s calibration, but you have no right to see this either.  If your speed was checked with laser, you don’t even have the right to a calibration check.

9. If you receive a citation, you will be asked to sign it. This is NOT an admission of guilt. It only means you received the citation. Any refusal to sign the citation could result in arrest and having to post bail or pay for the offense.

10. Don’t be surprised if another patrol car appears.  Since most law enforcement agencies use one-person patrol cars, this is done to assure the officer’s safety.

Law enforcement and citizens are in partnership to ensure safe communities.  During our interactions, we should maintain an atmosphere of mutual respect and realize we have the same goals.  If you ever have any questions about what to do during an interaction with law enforcement, feel free to call my office at 431-3259.