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Understanding Traffic Stops

Why Officers Conduct Traffic Stops

Deputies conduct traffic stops to enforce the law and to encourage voluntary compliance with these laws. The goal is to reduce injuries and deaths on our roadways.

However, officers who conduct traffic stops also save us money. Uninsured motorists who violate traffic laws cost taxpayers thousands of dollars each year. Costs are controlled every time patrol officers enforce the laws. This is another reason why officers pay special attention to the use of seat belts and child safety seats, as well as identifying drivers who may be under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Traffic Stops Are Dangerous

Many officers are killed each year and thousands more injured in traffic-related incidents. For example, in 1999, over half of all line-of-duty officer deaths were related to traffic incidents. In addition, when the use of weapons at the traffic stop is added, the percentage of traffic-related deaths is over 55 percent. Every stop for a traffic violation has the potential for danger.

“Routine” traffic stops, as they are sometimes called, can turn out to be anything but routine. During traffic stops, deputies discover uninsured drivers, drivers with suspended licenses, impaired drivers, illegal firearms, drugs and fugitives.

Due to these variables, deputies are trained to place a great deal of emphasis on their safety and take a defensive posture at the stop until the risk of confrontation or injury is diminished.

What Can You Do?

Whether you are stopped by the Highway Patrol, a Deputy Sheriff, or a local Police Officer, under our laws and ordinances, you are expected to cooperate. Just as the officer strives to maintain a level of professionalism during the traffic stop, drivers and other occupants can do their part, too, by following these simple guidelines:

Practice the golden rule. Treat the deputy like you would want to be treated.

When being signaled by a deputy to stop, look for the 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 roadway or to where the shoulder is wider, unless otherwise directed.

Never attempt to outrun the patrol vehicle or pretend not to see the lights or hear the siren.

Stay in your vehicle. If you are asked to exit the vehicle, do it slowly.

Remain calm. If there are passengers, also ask them to remain quiet and cooperative with all reasonable requests. Do not let anyone in your vehicle make threatening statements or gestures to the deputy.

Keep your seat belt fastened until the officer has seen you wearing it.

Turn on the interior lights when the stop occurs during darkness so the deputy can easily see that all is in order.

Understand that deputies will turn on the patrol car’s headlights and spotlights during the darkness for safety purposes. It helps illuminate the interior of your car.

Understand the reason that there are times when deputies have to speak loudly because they are near traffic and other noise conditions. They are not trying to intimidate you.

Keep your hands in view, preferably on the steering wheel. Ask your passengers to place their hands in plain view such as on their laps.

Do not duck down or make sudden movements, especially towards the floorboard, rear seat, or passenger side of the vehicle. The deputy may interpret these movements as an attempt to hide illegal contraband or to obtain a weapon.

If in use, turn off your cell telephone and radio to facilitate communications.

Roll down your window all the way so you and the deputy can communicate.

Ask for identification if the deputy is not in uniform or does not have a marked patrol vehicle.

Remember the first words spoken by you (and the deputy) may very well determine the tone of the interaction during the traffic stop.

Do not immediately reach into your glove box, console pocket or backseat. Wait for the deputy to request your license, registration and proof of insurance. If the documents are out of reach, tell the officer where they are and reach for them slowly. Otherwise, keep your hands on the steering wheel.

Give the deputy a chance to explain the violation. Most deputies are trained to ask for identification first before providing an explanation of the stop.

Answer the deputy’s questions to the best of your knowledge.

If the charge or citation is not clear, ask for an explanation in a respectful manner.

There is no need to apologize or to elaborate on the offense. Simply be civil and polite. If there are any special circumstances surrounding the incident, provide a straight, honest and up-front explanation.

Do not argue with the deputy at the roadside. If you disagree with the citation or the deputy’s actions discuss it later with a supervisor or the judge.

Let the deputy know if you are carrying a firearm. In these cases, the deputy may have a special procedure that, for example, may require you to identify the location of the firearm; to state if the weapon is loaded; to step out of the vehicle; etc.

If you feel the deputy has acted irresponsibly, report the incident to the deputy’s supervisor.

If you receive a citation, you will be asked to sign it. This is not an admission of guilt. It only means that you received the citation. Any refusal to sign the citation could result in an arrest.

Be flexible. There are many issues of safety and officer concerns that may be unique to your traffic stop. No traffic stop is routine. Cooperate with the deputy and follow instructions.

Bias-Based Profiling

Bias-based profiling occurs when, whether intentionally or unintentionally, an officer applies his or her own personal, societal, or organizational biases or stereotypes when making decisions or taking police action, and the ONLY reason for that decision or action is because of a person’s race, ethnicity, background, gender, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, age, culture or other personal characteristic, rather than due to the observed behavior of the individual or the identification of the individual as being, having been, or about to be engaged in criminal activity.

It is the policy of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to protect the Constitutional rights of all people, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical handicap, religion or other belief system or physical characteristic; and to treat each person with respect and dignity. In keeping with this duty, the Sheriff’s Office will not accept or tolerate bias-based profiling.

If you feel that you have been a victim of bias-based profiling, please contact the Marion County Sheriff’s Office Community Policing Bureau or the Watch Command Bureau at 369-6739.