October 23, 2021

Politeness, compliance stressed during traffic stops

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Cortland police officer Melissa Eccleston checks out a driver along Tompkins Street recently.

When a person is pulled over by the police, they can experience a rush of emotions.

These can range from nervousness and fear to even anxiety, but knowing what is expected of you in the situation can make the experience better.

When a driver sees the flashing lights of a patrol car in their mirror they must pull off to the side of the road and when it comes to search of a vehicle, a driver can give consent, or the officer must obtain a search warrant. The following suggestions are given to help the experience go smoothly for both a driver and police officers.

Public Defender Keith Dayton said the most important action to exercise when stopped by police is respect. “You (the person stopped) must be respectful across the board.”

Attitude and respect go a long way, agreed Capt. Robert Derksen with the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office.

Along with respect, Dayton has some suggestions for people stopped by police in their car:

* Do not lie to the officer.

* Do not resist an officer. If an officer asks someone to step out of the car, that person should comply. Yet make sure you assert your rights while remaining respectful.

* Never run from officers.

* If an officer asks for your license, provide it.

Anyone stopped by the police should follow directions but not to the point of giving up rights.

If an officer asks for consent to search a vehicle, make it known whether consent is given or not, Dayton said.
Dayton said it’s best to not make matters worse than they already are.

Although in New York state drivers are not required to roll down their windows at all for police, Dayton and local police suggest that drivers should anyway.

“I’d advise that you only roll the window down part way until instructed otherwise by the officer,” Dayton said.
However, local police suggest rolling the window down all the way.

In New York, a person doesn’t have to roll their window down, but keeping the window up can be seen by some officers as interference, said city police Lt. David Guerrera.

Even though rolling the window down is not covered by the Vehicle and Traffic Law, a police officer could still charge a person with obstruction of governmental administration for not doing so, Guerrera said.

A person must follow the officer’s directions or it could be taken as interference, Dayton said.

When it comes to things people shouldn’t do when stopped, Dayton had a few suggestions.

Don’t offer any evidence to an officer that can be incriminating, Dayton said. “People should use their right to remain silent.”

Dayton said if police have the right to search the car, whether through a warrant or consent, then don’t get in the way.

Derksen also had suggestions to follow:

* Turning off the radio and keeping hands on the steering wheel after being pulled over.

* Never exit the vehicle unless the officer asks you to do so.

Guerrera also had some suggestions to follow when being stopped by police:

* The first thing to do would be to pull over immediately in a safe place. “You don’t want to create a traffic problem while following the law.”

* Remain still because any movement can be seen as suspicious. The best thing to do is stay still with hands on the wheel.

* Be polite and cooperative. “Officers do give warnings and people can talk their way out of situations with positive attitudes,” Guerrera said.