Continuing the post by Greg Rowe, a US law enforcement officer, about how to conduct a safe and comfortable traffic stop.
Please note that this advice applies to the US. Some alterations may be necessary for other jurisdictions/types of vehicles. It pays to ask your local law enforcement officers.
How to spot people pretending to be law enforcement officers:
“Easiest way (beyond the obvious uniform, squad car, police radio) is the ‘officer’. Picture it like any human interaction (yep, we’re human). The questions and instructions will reveal the intent of the person. An officer will be business like (may seem almost rude). My goal is not to sit and talk while there are 2/3 ton machines wizzing by that have hit me or my partners before. I want license, proof of insurance, possibly registration depending on the state. My questions will pertain to the violation I saw and/or the reason I stopped you.
If I think you’re drunk I’ll challenge your brain with divided attention tasks. I’ll ask you questions while watching your eyes and seeing if you can manage physical tasks at the same time. If I’m stopping you for another offense, my questions will be related to what you’ve been doing for the last few minutes to establish whether you’re the suspect or not. If I’m giving you grief for your driving conduct, you’re probably getting a warning.
I’ll be watching my officer safety skills. I won’t be touching you, reaching in your car (unless you’re hiding something), casually leaning against the car.
If it’s a perv stop, it will seem odd and unprofessional. The questions will be personal. Normal womens bar radar works well and the training you’ve been through work well. What does it seem my end goal is? If it seems odd, ask a question. An officer will have the answer since we’ve been asked the same question hundreds of times. Dirt bags will have to think. ‘Why did you want to know where I’m coming from or where I’m going or what i’m doing?’ This car was a suspect in a drive off/ I’m making sure the ID you gave me is yours/ I’m trying to figure out if I should give you a ticket/ etc. I will have the correct answers for your questions immediately.
We keep people in their cars most of the time. When/if it’s time to come out there’s multiple cops so you can be certain it’s the real cops then. Or an extremely elaborate movie level kidnapping that you’re screwed on anyways.
Our contact will last less than a minute while I go back to my car, run checks, issue a cite or not. Then I’ll come back to your car to finish up business or arrest you if. It’s like the process predator thing. What is the end goal? Where is the conversation going.? Does the ‘officer’ seem business-like, bored alertness, calm, detached? Dirtbag will be nervous. For me, it’s just one of thousands of stops I will conduct over my career that will hopefully end safely for both of us.
If people are concerned they can call 911 and ask if the stop is real. Most officers will not become too concerned if they see that the person has acknowledged the stop (activated their turn signal, reduced speed, not moving their hands from the wheel) and appears to be looking for a safe place to stop. Various forms of this horror story have popped up over the years and it’s caused no end of increased stress on stops for no good reason. If your doors are locked and windows are up, you’re in a 2 ton piece of armor that is much faster than anyone on foot trying to get you out of the car.
Just pull over, call 911, roll the window down and inch and listen to instructions. If you’re nervous about it, as you don’t see a uniform or marked squad, be reasonable in your explanation and request for a uniform cop. The under covers understand and have usually requested a uniform on the way. All cops have a mother and can understand basic safety precautions if common sense is used.”