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Traffic Stop? Safety ‘Rules of the Road’ from Sheriff Zordel

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The Prowers County Sheriff’s Office recently issued a medial release describing an event in which a young female driver was stopped on a highway in the county and pulled over and questioned by a man impersonating a lawman. Fortunately no harm came to the young woman, but this type of event occurs across the country and Sheriff Zordel, offered information on what the general motorist might expect when they are pulled over for a traffic violation.  The following information describes some basic ‘rules of the road’ for those instances, and can hopefully provide some guidelines for a motorist to follow if they should be stopped by an official officer of the law.  The following are remarks provided by Sheriff Zordel to questions posed to him by The Prowers Journal.  The questions are in italics.

Sheriff Zordel replied: While I can answer the questions “generally” keep in mind, while you may hear officers or deputies refer to them as “routine traffic stops” there is nothing routine about them. Each individual stop is going to be different, because of officer, reason for contact, and the environment the contact occurs in. So, heavy traffic areas, an officer may approach the passenger side, to avoid taking a passing side mirror to the back. A high risk stop based on the situation could result in guns being drawn and verbal orders. The way the contacted driver positions their vehicle could pose hazards for the officer or deputy trying to walk up to the vehicle. The list goes on and is different for other agencies but again this is generally speaking.

Just what should a person expect from an officer when they’re pulled over for speeding, basically. For someone like a young driver who has never been thru the process, it might help to know what to expect and what to do to assist the deputy. 

The officer is going to make the contact, which is pulling in behind the vehicle to be contacted and activating emergency equipment, which is usually the lighting. In most cases, there will be a delay between the two vehicles coming to a stop and the officer being at the window. This is due to the officer making observations and contacting dispatch with the vehicle information, location of the stop, and reason for contact.

Once the Deputy comes to the window, they will usually begin with pleasantries such as how are you today, or Hello, sir/ma’am, etc. They will almost always tell you why they have stopped you, and ask for your license, registration, and proof of insurance. If you are having trouble locating any of those items, they may wait outside the vehicle, or they may tell you to keep looking and they will get it upon the re-contact.

Almost always they will ask you to remain in the vehicle. It is not a good feeling for the officer to have the driver get out or to be outside the vehicle for officer safety reasons, nor for the driver due to passing vehicles possibly striking the driver. If you get out the deputy will probably order you to return to your vehicle and wait for him to re-contact. Once he has returned to his car with your items, he will run the driver for wants, warrants, and driving status. Depending on how any of those returns come back may dictate how the rest of the stop happens. If none of those warrant further action, such as an arrest of further investigation, the deputy might issue a citation for the reason he contacted you, or he might issue a written warning or just a verbal warning, which is usually accompanied by a business card, which has the pertinent information on it of the stop as well as his supervisor’s information in case the driver of the vehicle wishes to make a complaint or give a compliment.

Would they expect to be asked to step out of their car and into the officer’s vehicle? If so, what would prompt that to happen?        

So, depending on the deputy, you could be asked to step out of the vehicle when you are re-contacted, or you may not. If there is something the deputy saw while at your window upon initial contact, such as a weapon or contraband, you could be asked to step out of the vehicle upon initial contact. It is not very often where a Prowers County Deputy might ask you to get out and come back to his vehicle and sit inside, it could happen but rarely. I cannot speak for other agencies as I am not that familiar with their practices. Weather, could be one of those factors but, most of the time it might be if there had been an accident or other situation where the deputy wanted to keep you out of the elements, or if he suspected drinking and driving.

The Deputy might ask you out of the vehicle to sign a warning or citation at the rear of the driver’s vehicle and the front of the patrol car.

What should they be required to hand over for documentation such as license or insurance papers?

Driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance are usually the items asked for, and are required to be produced, as not having these items is a potential violation of law.

If they have doubts about an officer’s authenticity, should they inform him of what they’re doing if they call 911 or dispatch for confirmation.

911 and Dispatch are the same for LPD and PCSO.   911 will be LPD/PCSO dispatch on a CSP stop, not their dispatch, but our dispatch can talk to them to make verifications.

I would say if possible, to not tell the deputy or officer of the call. Unless the deputy asks you to hang up the phone, then tell them what you are doing. They will more than likely radio dispatch themselves, while outside the vehicle, to indeed verify you are talking to our dispatch, so there is almost a double verification going on at that time. In most cases the driver will even be able to hear part of the radio traffic outside the window from the officer and hear it in the background while on the phone.

Can they keep their car window up high enough to allow communication and not have to bring it all the way down if they suspect something’s amiss?

Again, they can do so, unless it is interfering with communications, such as not being able to hear the conversation, etc. I would still prefer the phone call method, in my experience with traffic whizzing by at my back it is rather hard to hear often with the window completely down. 

Should the officer show a badge or ID that proves he is authentic when asked?

Almost always an officer is in uniform, which is patched with the agency and possibly a US flag on the shoulders of the shirt. A hard badge on the left breast, and a name tag on the right breast. However, there are a few times where something happens and a deputy who is not in the “official” uniform may stop a vehicle. The badge will almost always still be visible, either from a chain around the neck, usually putting the badge about the center of the chest or it is on the belt near the gun. If they are not in a uniform, it is advisable to ask to see the badge. Again, being familiar with local law enforcement should help you identify the badge, but if you are still skeptic asking for ID is ok too.

The best thing to remember is that you don’t know if it is a potential impersonator or not until you see them. If for some reason, and let’s use this instance, you are being pulled over by a silver Crown Vic. Call dispatch/911, while you are being pulled over to verify. In this scenario, no agencies in Prowers County use silver Crown Vics anymore, so being able to get law enforcement enroute quickly will be key, then taking directions from dispatch is essential.

One of the hardest things to be conscious of, is that if you are being pulled over for a lawful reason, not giving the appearance that you are trying to elude the officer. Be sure to pull over, unless there is a reason you can articulate, and in that case call 911/dispatch to verify quickly so that you aren’t making matters worse for yourself. And if dispatch tells you it is an officer trying to contact you, pull over immediately and comply with the officer’s requests.

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