A COP TELLS US WHAT TO DO
IF WE GET PULLED OVER
DEALING WITH COPS IS SCARY. And even cops themselves recognize that nerves can get the best of us–even when we’re not doing anything wrong. “Getting pulled over is very intimidating. You see a burly guy or girl with a gun and a shiny badge. Your mind is racing. And most people don’t know what to do,” says an Bob* an Indiana-based cop, who has been on the job for more than ten years. “It’s even intimidating for me. I’ve been pulled over by a female officer and I called her ‘sir.’ I said ‘yes, sir,’ to her. That’s how nervous I was. And that’s coming from a police officer!”
If even a 10-year vet of the police department can make mistakes when facing Johnny Law, what hope do the rest of us have? So we talked to this officer about what to do if you get pulled over, how to keep your cool and *maybe* even dodge a ticket.
WHAT DO DO IF YOU GET PULLED OVER**
Pull over within a reasonable amount of time. You don’t have to pull over right away. And you don’t want to take the cops on some crazy OJ chase either. Just stop your car where you can safely pull over off the street.
Put your car in park, roll your window all the way down and turn off your music. Then, keep your hands on the steering wheel. Now’s also a good time to try to calm and center yourself. Sure, your mind is probably racing, and you’re probably freaking the eff out, but “you need to figure out how to stay calm, slow down and listen to what the cop is saying,” Officer Bob says
This might seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people forget this rule when getting pulled over. “Lots of times, when I pull someone over, if they don’t’ have their license and registration readily available, they’ll reach out somewhere and start digging to find it,” Bob says. “But I haven’t yet asked them, ‘where’s your registration?’” Again, logic says that being ready for the officer would be a good thing. But law enforcement doesn’t run on logic. It runs on procedures and protocol (because there are so many wakadoos out there who will reach for a weapon instead of registration). So, hang tight and wait for the officer to ask you to do something before you do it. Once the officer does ask for your registration, keep the respectful talk going by saying, “It’s in my glovebox, may I get it?” Now the officer knows why you’re reaching across your car and you’re painting yourself as a respectful citizen who may even be worthy of a break.
In the movies, we often hear the line, “Is there a problem officer?” Don’t ask it. Again, while in most situations, asking what’s wrong is a helpful thing; But when dealing with cops, it’s not. They want to run the show and be in charge, so let them do their thing. Wait for the officers to talk first. This is the procedure in which these officers are trained and by deviating from procedure by talking without being asked to, you can end up ruffling their feathers, which can inadvertently make you look bad. So go ahead and wait for them to tell you why they pulled you over–it’s part of their procedure, according to Officer Bob.
Secondly, when the officer is talking, be sure to listen VERY carefully. Keep in mind that you’re dealing with someone who has been trained in a strict fashion and whose job it is to enforce rules. These people are used to order, protocols and specific ways of doing things. And once you get pulled over, you’re thrown into their world. “Slow down and listen to what the officer is asking or telling you to do,” Bob says. If the officer asks if you have proof of insurance, don’t retrieve it. She or he didn’t ask you to get it, they just asked you whether you have it or not. By listening extra carefully, you’ll be less likely to get on the cop’s nerves and make an already bad situation even worse.
Now it’s time to bust out the “yes ma’am, no sir,” stuff. “We officers were trained in a military type setting and we address other people by rank, like ‘yes, lieutenant’ so if you respond in that manner, where you are saying sir or ma’am, that will probably give you brownie points with the officer,” our cop says. Also a good idea: make eye contact when speaking to the officer–it’s also shows respect and that you don’t have anything to hide (even if you do).
“People are going to lie to get out what they can. But all you’re doing is digging yourself a deeper hold by lying. We [police officers] see the worst in society and it’s hard for us to trust another human because we presume we are being tricked and lied too,” Bob says. “Officers don’t like being lied to–and we know when people lie to us, so the best thing to do is to be honest.”
While our helpful cop is right about not lying, the legal publisher Nolo doesn’t recommend admitting to much of anything. Oftentimes, cops will try to extract information out of you by dropping bait like, “do you know why I pulled you over?” When this happens, Nolo suggests answering with a simple, “No, ma’am” or “No sir,” since cops can use what you say against you in court.
Officer Bob has a different perspective: “If the person is being straight forward and says ‘I was speeding, I’m sorry,’ and they have no points on their record, there’s a fifty/fifty chance that I’ll send them on their way with a warning.” It’s hard to know whether a cop is going to be forgiving or not. So it’s probably safest to say very little. (Nolo recommends simply saying “I see,” after a cop says he or she pulled you over for speeding.)
Really. While the trusted Nolo folks don’t recommend admitting to anything after a traffic stop, sometimes we blurt things out while nervous. At this point, if you’ve already admitted to speeding or whatever, it doesn’t hurt to ask for a little bit of mercy. If an officer has told you that they’ve pulled you over for speeding, “there’s nothing wrong with asking for leniency or with asking, ‘Is there any way you can cut me a break on this?,’” Bob says. It may or may not work, but at this point in the game, it’s worth a shot.
**This isn't legal advice (cuz, we're not lawyers, and all), but one cop's perspective.
For a legal perspective when it comes to dealing with the law, consult with a lawyer for help.
* The cop's name has been changed.