What do you do
when your Stopped by a Police Officer
Patrol Officers are the core of the police department and are likely the officers
that you would most commonly encounter if contacted by police. We have compiled
information presented here that will give you an understanding of police procedures
and let you know what to expect from a police officer if you are stopped by an
If You Are Stopped By the Police While In Your Car
1.) As soon as you notice the police emergency lights pull your vehicle
over to the right safely.
a.) Although you might not know the reason, you
should pull over right away (safely).
b.) You may have committed some minor
traffic violation without realizing it.
c.) There may be some problem with
your vehicle of which you are unaware.
2.) Remain in your vehicle
while the officer approaches.
a.) Do not attempt to get out of your vehicle
or approach the officer.
b.) Exiting your vehicle does not assist the officer
and may be perceived as a threat.
c.) For the officer’s safety and yours,
remain in your vehicle.
d.) Do not use your cell phone. The officer needs
your complete attention to conduct their contact with you. Do not make calls during
the traffic stop.
3.) Turn on your interior light if stopped at
a.) A lit vehicle cabin will reduce the officer’s concern regarding
weapons or other possible threats within your reach.
4.) Keep your hands easily observable, preferably on the steering wheel
where they can be easily seen by the approaching officer.
a.) Reaching under
your seat or into your glove box are actions that will cause the officer concern
that you may be reaching for a weapon.
5.) Give your license and
registration to the officer if asked to do so.
a.) Indiana law requires a
driver to turn over this information upon request by a uniformed officer or an
officer in plain clothes who displays proper identification.
b.) Most officers
will not provide a specific reason (s) for the stop until they have received your
license and registration. This is to avoid debating the reason for the stop prior
to acquiring this necessary information.
6.) If you wish to inquire
as to why you were stopped or offer an explanation, do so before the officer returns
to his or her vehicle.
a.) Answer all questions honestly. Information pertaining
to prior arrests or traffic violations is easily verified via the police dispatcher
or the officer's in car computer information.
b.) Touching or threatening a
police officer or acting in a disorderly manner could result in the filing of
additional charges against you, and you will be arrested.
c.) If the officer
asks you to step out of your vehicle, do so without any sudden or threatening
d.) Give the officer approximately 2˝-3 feet of “personal” space
as a safety zone to do his or her job.
e.) Remain in your vehicle at all times
unless told to do otherwise.
f.) Do not become argumentative, disorderly,
or abusive. If an officer has already written a ticket, it cannot be voided at
If you believe that you have been unfairly treated, DO NOT
make that argument on the side of the road. Your best alternative is to carry
your protest to Traffic Court. Whether an officer issues you a ticket or gives
you a warning is entirely up to their individual discretion. Your conduct during
the stop may influence the officer’s decision.
Don’t Be Offended
Most citizens already realize that law enforcement is a difficult and dangerous
profession. Hundreds of police officers are killed each year, and thousands more
are injured and assaulted. For these reasons, police officers tend to be extremely
cautious. They place a great deal of emphasis on officer safety and survival.
Certain safety practices are instilled in our officers from the first day of their
careers. Although the procedures maximize safety for the officer, they may seem
standoffish, impolite, or offensive to citizens who may not consider such precautions
necessary with “them.”
Even though you have no intention of doing the
officer harm, he or she will probably maintain a defensive posture until the officer
feels that there is no risk of confrontation or injury. As far as police officers
are concerned, there is no such thing as a “routine” traffic stop. Every stop
has the potential for danger.
If The Police Approach You on the Street
Innocent individuals are often offended or angered, or both, because an officer
has detained them for questioning. Although the delay might be inconvenient for
you, the officer believes there is a reason (reasonable suspicion) to stop you
and ask questions. Most of these stops are not officer initiated. The most common
reasons that cause an officer to stop someone are as follows:
1.) You might
be one of only a few people walking around in the vicinity of a crime that has
2.) Your clothing might be similar or identical to that
worn by the perpetrator of a crime.
3.) Someone may have called the police
complaining about your presence or that you looked “suspicious.”
may have pointed you out to the officer.
5.) You might be acting in a manner
that the officer considers “suspicious” and you may act even more “suspicious”
after realizing that the officer is observing you. The police officer does not
wish to detain you any longer than necessary. Once the officer is able to determine
that you are not the individual that he or she is looking for, the officer will
often apologize for the inconvenience and then quickly leave to resume the search.
In All Police Encounters
1.) Avoid making sudden movements
(for your wallet, into your coat, toward your waistband, etc.) until you have
informed the officer of your intention to do so and the officer has said it’s
2.) Do not carry weapons (real or otherwise) or even joke about having
a weapon on your person.
3.) Do not touch the police officer or violate his
or her “personal” safety zone (2˝-3 feet).
4.) Remain calm and avoid being
argumentative. (If you are uncooperative and refuse to answer reasonable questions,
the officer is likely to become more suspicious and the encounter will probably
last much longer than necessary.)
5.) Do not use cell phones or other electronic
devices during your contact with the officer.
Comply first, and then you may seek an explanation from the officer or the officer’s
There are times when citizens who have contact with the police
come away with feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction. The South Bend Police
Department does not condone police misconduct of any type. In our experience,
we have learned that those negative feelings are often a result of not knowing
the reason (s) an officer has made certain requests or acted in a certain manner.
Unfortunately, demands on a patrol officer do not always permit time for explanations
at the time you are stopped.
Hopefully, the information presented here
will give you an understanding of police procedures and let you know what to expect
from a police officer if you are stopped.