Carol O’Brien: How to deal with a police stop


None of us like to be pulled over, but most of us will be at some point. Although not an ideal situation, a traffic stop doesn’t have to be an unpleasant encounter.

As annoyed as you may be, the best way to respond is to be polite and respectful. Listen to the officer and do not “talk over” them.

Keep in mind the officer doesn’t know you or your intentions, or those of your passengers.

With that considered, you will understand that for a law enforcement officer, a traffic stop generally has two threat levels: either at risk or at high risk. That said, most stops conclude with no violence; however, if there is any level of violence, the officer’s life is at risk. That is why it is critical to use common sense when stopped.

Once pulled over, an officer will ask you questions. While this may irritate you because you “just want to be on your way,” do not be rude by rushing the process, and don’t take the questions personally. Remember, the law enforcement officer doesn’t yet know you are an upstanding citizen who is just in a hurry because … fill in the blank. Give them the opportunity to discover you are a good person through your responsible and respectful interaction.

Some common sense guidelines include:

• Keep your hands in plain sight at all times.

• Do not make sudden movements, or exit your vehicle unless asked to do so by the officer.

• Do not run away or try to run away and never, under any circumstances, should you attempt to touch the officer.

Remember, the officer is doing a job, a job that includes protecting you and the community. This sometimes involves pulling folks over for a traffic stop. Officers do not have a desire to hurt you, or to be hurt. It is simply their job to stop motorists when there is a perceived violation. If you disagree that a violation has occurred, do not argue with the officer. Save your argument for court.

As with any type of life experience, education and preparation are key. As a parent, it’s important to let children know what to expect if they are ever pulled over or approached by law enforcement, and equally important to talk to them about how to conduct themselves during such an event.

Two of my three boys had the “rules” reinforced when they took classes for concealed carry licenses, which brings up another common sense guideline.

It is the law that if you have a concealed carry license and you are stopped while driving, or as a passenger, you must tell the law enforcement officer if you have a gun in the car. If you don’t, you risk losing your concealed carry license. Remember, not only do officers not know your character, but they do not know what dangers they may encounter when approaching a stopped vehicle.

I sometimes teach the legal section for concealed carry license class. Those of us who teach generally tell students if they see flashing lights behind them, they should put their turn signal on, drive to the shoulder, and keep their hands on the steering wheel. As the officer approaches, roll down the window and immediately tell the officer they have their CCL. Then let the officer know if there is (or is not) a gun in the vehicle. If there is a gun in the vehicle, tell (not show) the officer where it is located. At that time, ask permission to retrieve your license vehicle registration (before reaching inside a pocket or glove compartment). That is good advice for everyone.

The bottom line is to be helpful and non-confrontational. There is no need to try to take control of a traffic stop. The officer will tell you what you need to do. These common sense rules make sense for all drivers, no matter the situation.

Just imagine you are walking up to a car with unknown persons inside. How would you like the citizen(s) to treat you? In a nutshell, treat the officers as you would like to be treated, and appreciate that they are doing a job to keep us all safe.

Carol O’Brien

Contributing columnist

Carol O’Brien is the Delaware County prosecutor.

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