If you’re stopped by the police

John Darrell dutifully brought his car to a stop when the police signaled him to pull over. He had barely turned off the ignition when the officer ordered him out of the car, braced him, and in spite of John’s honest protests, insisted that the car was stolen.

In frustration, John shouted an oath and shook his fist at the officer. Instantly the officer snapped handcuffs on him and shoved John in the squad car. Only later, at the station, did the police discover a computer mistake had wrongly identified the car.

“Many teens do not comprehend the power of the police or the realistic fear among police that any young person may be armed. Rude, angry behavior or even normal emotional behavior by the suspect can sometimes turn a routine stop into an arrest, or in the worst case, escalate an arrest into someone getting hurt or killed,” says R.R. Raffensberger, retired Chief of Police, Frederick, Maryland.

As Claudine Wirths and I said in our book, Coping with Confrontations and Encounters with the Police:

“The procedures associated with arrest, search and seizure, questioning, treatment at the station, and so forth have grown out of many years of experiences in law enforcement and the rulings of the courts.

“These experiences and rulings are taught to officers at the police academy. They are required to follow arrest procedures. They are not going through a process just to annoy you or anger you.”

So, what can you do if, rightly or wrongly, you are stopped for even a minor offense? Here are five possibly life-saving tips:

• Understand the reality of police power. When you are stopped, defer to the officer’s power. Think of it this way: If an eighteen-wheeler were coming at you at ninety miles an hour, would you hold up your hand and say you have the right-of-way? Of course not. You’d jump out of the way. In the same sense, jump out of the officer’s way by not fighting back. If you get physical with the officer, he or she can, by law, use even more force.

• Never attempt to outrun the police, either by car or on foot. NEVER!

• Realize the police will assume you may have a weapon. Over 150 officers get killed in the line of duty each year. The officer who stops you has no desire to be a statistic.

• If physically touched or braced, cooperate and stay polite. Again, this is not the time to defend yourself. Your time will come later.

• If arrested, answer only questions of identity, be polite, keep cool and get adult aid. For lots more information, see Coping with Confrontations and Encounters with the Police.

by Mary Bowman-Kruhm