January 15, 2004 Increased Traffic Enforcement
Most of us don't pay an inordinate amount of attention to the police when driving our cars, unless we are going over the speed limit or are breaking other traffic laws. Hopefully, the recent increase in traffic enforcement in Ceres and elsewhere in Stanislaus County has increased overall awareness of these kinds of matters.
Being stopped by the police can be unnerving and uncomfortable no matter how professional or courteous the police officer may be to you. The officers also find the task of stopping motorists a bit stressful, as each such stop brings with it the [not insignificant] chance of being shot, physically attacked or the possibility of being struck by another motorist. More than 50 percent of all officers killed in the line of duty lost their lives in traffic stop situations. It is no wonder that the officers are prone to being serious and focused on the task at hand. Yet, they are true professionals with only rare exception. They are not in the business of punishing you or making you feel uncomfortable. They are doing their job, and it is a formidable and often times dangerous task.
There are many reasons why the police stop motorists. Aside from traffic violations, a motorist may be stopped if there is a description match of someone wanted for a crime; the vehicle may look like one that was used in a crime or suspicious activity; the vehicle may have equipment problems, like cracked glass or bald tires, or lights not functioning; the car may have illegal equipment add-ons; the registration may be expired; or there might be outstanding arrest warrants associated with the car. The list of possibilities is considerable. An officer might also stop a motorist who appears to be under duress or may be needing help.
Regardless of the reason(s) for the stop, police officers are trained to be professional and courteous. They also train in officer safety tactics to avoid the many hazards they face during "routine" traffic stops. This training may, from the motorist's perspective, translate to the officer appearing as someone who is "all business" and not particularly friendly. Police managers expect officers to be courteous and professional with motorists who have been stopped. And while the officers strive to do so, it is often times very difficult to rise to the level of having a "friendly" interaction with a motorist who is irritated, hostile or angry. Nevertheless, the officer is always concerned about safety - both yours and their own.
When an officer activates his or her red lights and siren, you must pull over to a safe location on the right side of the roadway. Sometimes the officer will communicate with you through the loudspeaker with instructions of where to stop. If it is dark, your car will be illuminated with a bright spotlight. Also, more often than not, a second "cover" officer will arrive for additional safety and security. The second officer keeps an eye on the vehicle that has been stopped, as well as other traffic and pedestrians in the area. The second officer helps keep things safe for both the initial officer and the motorist who has been stopped.
You should remain in your car with your hands in plain view, and be sure to follow the officer's instructions. Avoid sudden movements and do not reach for anything, including your license, until the officer has asked you to do so.
When a motorist is stopped, the first order of business will be to establish your identity. Next will be determining vehicle ownership and current registration, and the officer will inspect the insurance certificate. Normally, you will not be told the reason for the stop until those requirements have been fulfilled. You should always have your driver's license with you when driving, since without it, the stop will take much longer and you stand a good chance of being cited for not having the [valid] license in your possession. Also, if you are receiving a citation, state law requires that you sign it. Failure to do so will result in a trip to jail. The signature is not an admission of guilt; it is merely a promise to appear in court.
If you have been mistreated by the police, the on-duty watch commander can be contacted to discuss the incident, and if necessary, a formal complaint can be filed. However, the law provides for criminal (and civil) penalties if a citizen files a false complaint against a peace officer. Also, only a judge can adjudicate a citation. The officer's supervisors, including the chief of police, cannot dismiss a "moving" traffic citation. Therefore, the supervisor or watch commander can discuss the officer's conduct, but they will not engage in a debate about the validity of the citation. That is a function left exclusively to the courts.
Traffic enforcement, and the stopping of motorists for the various reasons listed above, constitutes a very large part of an officer's job. And the fact that there is so much emphasis on that aspect of public activity is because our society conducts nearly all its travels via a motorized vehicle. Because few people are immune from making driving mistakes, either intentionally or inadvertently, just about everyone gets stopped by the police one time or another during their driving career. By following the tips and advice in this article, you can make the experience a bit less traumatic for yourself and less difficult for the officer. I wish you all the safest of motoring experiences.