Stopped by a Cop
I got pulled over by a cop at 1:30 AM Friday night (well, really Saturday morning). Nothing significant — burned-out taillight. Plus which my license plate had attracted his attention. It officially reads “TANGOI”, but I’ve used little bits of yellow reflective tape (the exact same color as my yellow Green Bay Packer Wisconsin license plate) to modify the “I” into an exclamation point. As it happens, this is illegal in Wisconsin, and this was the 3rd officer who’s pointed this out to me over the last 5 years. So far, tho, it hasn’t cost me any money or jail time, so I make it a point to drive safely and sanely, so as not to attract undue notice, while continuing my criminally exuberant promotion of my favorite dance rhythm.
But what I really wanted to write about was the nice pamphlet the officer gave me, entitled “What Should I Do If I Am Stopped by the Police?: A Guide for Our Community”. It contains some good advice and useful information. I suppose you could probably stop by the cop shop and pick one up, but otherwise about the only way you have of finding out what’s in it is to get stopped by the police yourself.
I am here today to spare you the trouble. The text of the pamphlet is reproduced below:
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[photo of UW Police Chief Susan Riseling]
A University of Wisconsin - Madison Police Officer has just stopped you. We realize that this experience is a significant emotional event in your life. We can assure you that the officer will complete all necessary business and release you as soon as possible. In most instances this will be 15 minutes or less. The following are some suggestions on how to act and help the officer complete his/her duties.
As members of the UW-Madison Police Department, we have developed this guide to help you understand why you might be stopped by an officer, and how you can expect to be treated. It’s important for you to understand what you can expect when an officer stops you.
We also want you to know that you have the right to compliment or complain about an officer’s actions. If you have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We want to hear from you.
What Should I Do If I’m Pulled Over in my Car?
If you are driving a motor vehicle and an officer signals you to stop, you must pull over. That’s the law.
Stay in your car, and if it’s dark, turn on the interior light. Do not leave your car unless directed to do so by the officer. Relax, don’t make any sudden movements or reach for items inside the vehicle which could be construed by an officer as a potential threat to his/her safety.
Keep your hands on the steering wheel. [Note: Understanding without having read the pamphlet that the officer might well want to know where my hands were, I rolled down my window and leaned both forearms on the sill, with my hands dangling outside the car. But I probably wouldn’t have done this in February.] Wait for the officer to approach your vehicle. The officer will begin by identifying him/herself and that they work for the UW-Madison Police Department. Next the officer will explain to you why you were stopped and ask if you have any reason explaining your behavior regarding the violation for which you were stopped. (A UW officer will always inform you of the reason that you’re being stopped.) The officer will then ask you for your driver’s license. If you don’t have your license with you, verbal identification will be requested. Please provide the officer with the requested information. [What they don’t mention is that, if you just hold up your wallet with the driver’s license visible in it, they will ask you to remove the license and hand it over sans wallet.]
Moving traffic violations are the most common reason for stopping a vehicle. However, you may also have been stopped for a registration or equipment violation. A criminal investigation may be another reason for being stopped or your vehicle may match the description of a vehicle that was involved in a crime.
At some point during the stop, the officer may ask you and any passengers to step from the car for a variety of reasons. Please follow the instructions the officer gives you.
Our actions during a traffic stop are guided by the fact that many police officers are assaulted and killed each year during traffic stops. Our goal is to protect you, the motorist, and to ensure our own safety. We feel that it is important for you to know that most of the UW-Madison Police Department’s traffic stops are video/audio recorded.
If You Are Issued a Citation
Don’t argue at the scene. You have the right to contest a citation before a judge at a later time. This doesn’t require the service of an attorney. Please refer to “A Traffic Citation — Your Rights & Responsibilities”, a pamphlet that will be provided to you along with the citation for further information on handling the citation.
[photo of officer approaching vehicle]
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. When a car is stopped, it appears that the officer is “sneaking up” on the driver. At night, the officers shine their lights into the car. Why is that?
A. Officers are trained to minimize their exposure to traffic and potential danger from within the vehicle. At night, the bright lights illuminate the interior of the vehicle, which is another safety consideration for the officer.
Q. If I’ve only been pulled over for a traffic offense, why do other police officers show up?
A. It is not uncommon for officers who are in close proximity to back each other up, even if they aren’t requested. This is just routine for safety reasons. It is also possible that the initial or secondary patrol vehicle may be a field-training unit, which consists of two officers.
[Indeed, this happened in my case. I suspect it was because, when the 1st officer ran my plates, they came back as registered to a Saturn, not my Ford Aerostar, making me look like a possible car thief and worthy of extra attention. I explained to the officer that the Saturn’s plates probably read just plain “TANGO”, without the exclamation mark. He was satisfied that I was in my own vehicle upon seeing my auto registration.]
Q. Why does the officer sit in the car for so long. What are they doing?
A. Technology now allows an officer to verify your driving status and check your vehicle registration directly from the patrol car. Because this information is accessed via computer and dependent upon its reliability, unanticipated delays may occasionally occur. While it may seem as if the officer has kept you waiting for a long time, in reality it’s normally only for a few minutes.
I’d Like To Speak with Someone Regarding the Officer’s Actions. What Should I Do?
Your comments are very important to us. If you would like to compliment or complain about an officer’s actions, please:
• Complaint: Call us and ask to speak with a supervisor, or request that a complaint form be mailed to your address. Once you receive the form you may complete the form as instructed and return it to the UW-Madison Police Department.
• Compliment: Can be made by mail or call and ask to speak with a supervisor.
1429 Monroe St.
Madison, WI, 53711
Officer’s Name ___________________
Officer’s Badge Number ___________
[aerial photo of UW Campus]
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Strange tho it may sound, it was actually quite a pleasant experience being stopped by a cop. The officer was extremely professional and very polite. I learned about my bad taillight, and I picked up this cool brochure. After I get done posting this, I’m going to take them up on their offer to send in a compliment.