Traffic stop safety for yourself and the officer

Published 7:00 am Friday, October 7, 2016

The Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department has compiled the following information regarding traffic stops.

Due to deadly attacks on law enforcement recently, both citizens and officers have become increasingly alert and concerned about encounters with law enforcement. Some community leaders have asked that we provide direction to the public as to how they should respond when these encounters occur in order to create a safer environment for all involved. Since most encounters with law enforcement involve traffic stops, the following tips should reduce the inherent stress for both sides.

Why am I being stopped by law enforcement?

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There are many different reasons why you might be stopped by law enforcement. The most likely reason people are stopped while driving a motor vehicle is for violations of the traffic code. These violations fall into two categories; moving and equipment violations.

Another reason is because you, or your vehicle, may match the description of a suspect in a crime, you may have witnessed a crime or the officer might think you are in trouble or need assistance. An officer also might conduct a stop if your trunk is open, or

something is hanging from or on top of your vehicle.

Each traffic stop is unique and the law enforcement officer must alter his/her response to fit the circumstance.

Generally a law enforcement officer will provide his or her name upon request and will present proper identification when not in uniform; you may request credentials so that you are satisfied they are a law enforcement officer.

An officer will also inform a person of the reason(s) they are being stopped and will only use the force necessary to affect the arrest of a suspect and to maintain custody of the prisoner.

Suspects are only arrested for a crime committed in the officer’s presence, or when the officer has probable cause to believe the person has already committed a crime.

So, what you should do if you are stopped by a law enforcement officer while driving? You may feel confused, anxious, or even angry. These are natural feelings, but remember, traffic stops can also be stressful and dangerous for the officer. Each year a number of law enforcement officers are killed or seriously injured while making “routine traffic stops”.

A law enforcement officer may stop your vehicle at any time, for a traffic offense or investigation. Blue lights and/or a siren mean pull over to the right where it is safe and where you will not block traffic. With this in mind there are things that you, as a law-abiding citizen, can do to help lessen the unpleasantness of the experience.

• Remain in your vehicle, place your hands on the steering wheel where the officer can see them and follow his or her instructions.

• Avoid any sudden movements, especially toward the floorboard, rear seat or passenger side of the vehicle.

See part two of this column in next week’s Item for more tips.

By Pearl River County Sheriff David Allison