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Ah, the police — you gotta love ‘em

chief-wiggum.jpgSo Car and Driver posted this little list of things to do and not do when you get pulled over by a cop. Pretty standard fare — don’t get out of the car, do what the cops ask, be calm and respectful, etc.

The interesting part for me comes from a discussion of one of the things not to do: “Don’t slam on your brakes when you see the flashing lights, and don’t continue driving for an extended distance.” Trooper Larry Coggins (Florida, natch) says this about the issue:

Motorists should try to put themselves in my place. Just because I stopped a guy for speeding, it still runs through my mind that he might be fleeing a crime scene, might be a wanted fugitive, impaired, a kidnapper with a body in the trunk, a carjacker who hasn’t been called in yet—I just don’t know.

Yup. Everyone he pulls over, he thinks about how they might be a fugitive or transporting a dead body. Absolutely the right mind frame for a cop to be in each and every time he interacts with the civilian populace.

| Comments (17)


Sorry, Seth, I think you are off base criticizing those officers for telling the truth.

I spent four years working as a news reporter in upstate New York. I interviewed and got to know a lot of cops, sheriff's deputies and state troopers, including a retired NY State Trooper who wrote book about how to get out of speeding tickets by being smart and polite.

Every one of those recommendations - the do's and the don'ts - were included in his book. I have used those techniques any time I get pulled over and, boy, does it make life easier, on me and on the officer involved.

The fact that every single cop on traffic duty has the same or similar thoughts going through their minds is reflective of the reality of policing, their experiences and those of other police officers.

People do stupid things when they get popped for speeding; some of those are actions which police automatically interpret as a threat to themselves or others because their training and experience tells them it is.

tiddo -- I have no problem with the substance of those do's and don'ts. I think they are all justified and make sense. And I have no problem with cops being alert when they pull folks over. Where I have a problem is with cops coming into every interaction with a mindset not of "I better be alert" but of "this guy could be a guilty motherfucker, guilty of something bad and evil, so I best be ready." That mindset leads to problems.

Ditto, tiddo. (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

My dad's a cop in a very small town in the Midwest. It's clearly not nearly as dangerous a job as it could be, but he still has to be on the alert. Even in our tiny town, we've had officers hit by passing cars and verbally and physically assualted.

I'm with the cop. Especially since he's from Florida.

My uncle was a cop in Florida until 1997 when a car that he pulled over for speeding ran him over multiple times. Fortunately he didn't die, but he did lose his arm and required a lot of blood transfusions, one of which was unfortunately contaminated with Hepatitis. Florida ... what a state!

Sorry, I have to agree with Seth. I think this “all civilians are potential criminals” mindset leads to a complete mistrust and lack of respect for the people they pull over. We’re not talking about approaching violent, angry wife beaters or a potential violent pre-riot crowd. We’re talking about Average Joe driving to work, your Grandmother driving to get cookie-making bakery goods, that coworker who has cat calendars on her desk. Like good, mostly-normal people who’ve never committed a real crime and are just trying to live their lives and maybe, occasionally, speed a bit or fail to notice they have a taillight out.

Each and every time I've been pulled over (three times, speeding, failure to come to a complete stop, broken taillight) I've been nothing but totally polite and respectful. Full of "sirs" and "ma'ams,” I’ve never fought with an officer, never copped an attitude and always been prepared with whatever documents I need. I’ve always pulled over immediately and tried to do so in a safe spot for the officer to get out. And yet, all of the police officers I've dealt with in this circumstance have been unbelievably obnoxious and rude to me. The one who pulled me over for speeding screamed at me for reaching for my purse TO GET MY LICENSE OUT. Where else would I keep my license? Floating in the air next to me? My bag barely has enough space for chapstick and my license, it’s certainly not concealing a weapon!

I understand the issue that people do, sometimes, try to shoot officers who pull them over, but people also, sometimes, car jack people or mug them on the streets, and yet, I don’t fear every pedestrian or passer-by I meet.

Seth is right. Cops nowadays all see themselves as Dirty Harry with this "us against them" hubris. I've been very concerned that the idea that security does not trump liberty has been completely tossed into the trash heap.

While they have probably always thought this way, in my opinion, this attitude of these cops are a direct result of mindset that's been reinforced, encouraged and calcified since 9/11.

By the way, Bush sucks.

I don't see anything wrong. This is for the protection of both you and the officer. If you behave appropriately and give the officer no reason to feel as if you might be antagonizing or threatening then the process runs much more smoothly. Being an officer is a dangerous job. I don't agree however with cops who belittle you or act like jerks just because they have the authority to pull people over, give tickets, and arrest citizens.

While back, when I was in the navy, I was stuck in the shithole known as VA beach. I lived in the rougher area with two hispanics friends from my command. Like clockwork, at least once a month we would get pulled over and my trucked searched for drugs. I guess the local cops assumed that any white dude driving through a hispanic neighborhood had to be a meth head. I've never once got a ticket. And it would be the same three or four cops. I'm talking guns drawn, screaming for us to get on the ground, handcufted, and left in the back of the cruiser will they tore apart my truck. If I did't allow them to violate my civil rights, I'd get to sit on the curb handcufted, waiting for the K9 Unit to show. So why did I never complain? If word gets back to a military command that you even got questioned by the police you can go to mast. And the local PD knew and abused this. I was reminded this the first time I mentioned getting a badge number from one of the officers. I got plenty of horror stories of "good old boy" South Virgina Justice. I'm sorry but if a cop feels that they have to treat everyone as a criminal, they need a new job. That is a perspective that leads to abuse.

I heartily disagree with #2 on that referenced list of "do's & don'ts" where the window is concerned. You are not obligated to roll your window down all the way for a cop. I am speaking from experience here, I have actually had cops reach into the car and remove items, both from the car and MY SHIRT POCKET without any cause whatsoever other than their nosiness. (NO, they didn't "find" anything). Maybe it's illegal or whatever but it didn't stop them. Cracking the window is more than sufficient. Also, if you are ordered out of the car, roll windows up & LOCK the car, this is totally within your rights.

I have to agree with Seth; I am a college-aged female, drive a cute little Honda, always have valid and up-to-date registration, license, and insurance.
In my contacts with police (speeding ticket, one who helped me when I was broken down) they act as if I am a gang-banger with a gat in the back; especially the one who stopped to help me when my car was broken down. The clutch had blown on the hilly-scary-very very dark-Indian res land on the way to San Diego, and I was completely stranded -- the only direction my car would go was straight back down the hill. The cop that stopped insisted on doing a five minute visual search of my car with his flashlight, through the window, until he would even talk to me. I wasn't sure what was wrong with my car and he proceeded to ridicule me for making suggestions, and then didn't even stick around in "Rape Central" until the tow truck guy got there. Extremely rude.

There are some bad cop stories out there - a lot of them true - about how they can take advantage of their position and mess around with people for the fun of it. But as someone with several really decent, good cops for relatives, I do understand that mindset of awareness. Sure, it's easy for you and I to talk about how they need to be more polite and blah blah blah, but we're not the ones actively risking our safety for everyone else. Cops have to deal with the crappiest and often most dangerous of our society /all the time/. Every situation has the potential to get ugly; one of my relatives was with a team arresting a man who abused his wife (the wife had called the cops), only to have the wife start attacking them. Then they have to deal with those ordinary 'Average Joe' drivers who speed and then give the officers abuse for pulling them over. It's no wonder they feel on edge all the time when they don't know who's going to attack them next because they're wearing a uniform. While it's wrong for cops to be assholes just cause they can, don't assume all of them are like that. Just be polite so everyone can get it over and done with as quickly as possible.

While being a cop can have it's dangers, let's be honest. We all know the greatest is a moral danger. They have this idea that the power vested in them by the state is "their" power and any check on it is viscerally opposed. And hey, let's not completely discount blatant corruption. There's a reason that the highest cause of death for police is suicide.

Did I mention Bush sucks?

But in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Duke says, and i quote;

'Few people understand the psychology of dealing with a highway traffic cop. A normal speeder will panic and immediately pull over to the side. This is wrong. It arouses contempt in the cop heart. Make the bastard chase you. He will follow. But he won't know what to make of your blinker signal that says you are about to turn right. This is to let him know you're pulling off for a proper place to talk. It will take him a moment to realize that he's about to make a 180 degree turn at speed, but you will be ready for it. Brace for the g's, and fast heel-toe work. '

You're saying now this is the wrong approach?
That means Johnny Depp was lying to me.

I'm gonna have to go and untie those sea turtles aren't i?

*mutters* damnbloodycopsandbloggersruininmydamnfun*

Thanks, Seth.

I think it's important to remember that police are (usually) trained to protect themselves first and take control of whatever situations they are in as quickly as possible. I think it helps explain why some people find themselves face down on the ground after asking a simple question during a routine traffic stop; it probably also explains the rise in the use of tasers - and the ensuing deaths - over the past few years.

Individual police officers DO abuse their power from time to time; but ordinary citizens abuse the police on a regular basis, probably far more than police do the same. A cop I know said anytime somebody gives him the old chesnut, "Don't you have anything better to do?", his stock answers are usually "No," or "Yes, but I thought I'd fill my quota on the way to that bank robbery."

I used to have ultimate respect for cops as an authority; they scared little goody goody me, until the last few years. I think of the 4 times I've been in a car thats been pulled over (never me driving), one was justified. The rest felt like a bored cop, or a cop making a quota.

From the time we were on a college campus, in gridlock, going 2 mph, and were told that my friend didn't "really stop" at the stop sign, but instead stopped because the car in front of him did. To the time we were going 80mph in a 70 zone, when our cruise control was set 71, there's leeway to the imperfect radar gun, and yet our courteous nature to the cop resulted in a ticket. As multiple cars sped past us, most likely going over the limit.

I just think driving fines are padding coffers, and result in nothing. If I'm driving recklessly, whether by swerving or maybe 15 mph over the limit, pull me over. But on a country road, that has two lanes for each direction, and is flat, in the middle of the day, means the issue isn't safety.

I don't think I've ever had a positive experience with cops. They have all been so blatantly full of themselves. One even got irritated with me when after he asked for my license and registration, I had to ask what I was being pulled over for! I'm sorry, but they are the ones who chose the career with the motto, "To protect and serve." I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean "To protect and serve MYSELF." It's going to take a lot for me to change my view on the respect the average cop deserves.