What to Do When Stopped by the Police

There are many different reasons why you might be stopped by the  police. Whatever the reason, the officer needs your cooperation.

  • You may have committed a traffic violation
  • You may fit the description of a suspect
  • The officer might think you are in trouble and need help
  • You may have witnessed a crime

If  you are stopped by the police 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 police  officer. Each year, a number of law enforcement officers are killed or  seriously injured while making the "routine traffic stop." Police  officers are especially vulnerable during the hours of darkness. With  this in mind, there are things that you, as a law abiding citizen, can  do to help lessen the unpleasantness of the experience.


In all cases, a citizen is required to cooperate with police. When stopped by police, remember:

  1. A police officer may pull you over at any time for a traffic offense or police investigation.
  2. When  you see the red overhead lights and/or hear the siren, remain calm and  safely pull over parallel to the right side of the road.
  3. Remain in your vehicle unless the officer advises otherwise.
  4. Keep your hands on the steering wheel so the officer can see them.
  5. Avoid any sudden movements, especially toward the floorboard, rear seat or passenger side of the vehicle.
  6. Do  not immediately reach for your license or other documents until the  officer requests them. NYS Law requires drivers to show their license,  registration and insurance card upon request.
  7. If your documents are out of reach, tell the officer where they are before you reach for them.
  8. If the stop occurs during darkness, put on your dome or interior lights so the officer can easily see that all is in order.
  9. If  there are passengers in your vehicle, encourage them to remain quiet  and cooperate with the instructions. You, as the operator, are solely  responsible for your vehicle and its occupants.
  10. The officer may issue you a ticket. If you feel the reason is vague or unclear, ask the officer for details.
  11. Avoid  becoming argumentative. Arguing will not change the officer's mind. If  you contest the violation, you will have an opportunity to address the  matter in court.
  12. Be honest with the officer. If you really  didn't see the stop sign, or were unaware of the speed limit, let the  officer know. Being honest about any situation never hurts.
  13. Many  departments use one-man patrol cars, especially in the suburbs. It  would be normal to see two or three marked units on a routine traffic  stop.
  14. Finally, if you receive a ticket, accept it calmly. Accepting it is not an admission of guilt.

Each situation is unique and the police officer must alter his/her response to fit the circumstances.

Generally, a police officer:

  • Will provide his or her name upon request
  • A  police officer who is not in uniform will present proper  identification; you may request their credentials so that you are  satisfied they are a law enforcement officer
  • Will inform a person of the reason for being stopped
  • Will only use force necessary to affect the arrest of a suspect and to maintain the custody of the prisoner
  • Will  not search the body of a person of the opposite sex except to prevent  injury to the officer or another person, or to prevent the disposal or  destruction of evidence
  • Will only arrest a person for a crime  committed in the officer's presence, or when the officer has probable  cause to believe the person has already committed the crime

If  you have a question about procedures of a complaint about your  treatment, contact the department and ask to speak to a supervisor. You  may also send a letter of compliment if you feel the officer was  particularly helpful in your situation.