This post was originally published on Quora, in response to the question, “What are the things a police officer is paying attention to when you get pulled over?” We republished the answer with permission from the author, retired police officer Tim Dees.
In no particular order, here’s what a cop is paying attention to when he or she pulls you over:
The environment. The location of the stop may be in a neighbourhood unfriendly to cops, or where there are hazards from passing traffic
Editor’s note: Here are things cops look for that could potentially be red flags that you’re doing something wrong.
1. Activity inside the car. People moving around can indicate efforts to retrieve or conceal a weapon, or to hide drugs, liquor, or stolen property.
2. Continuing to drive long after the overhead lights have gone on and the siren is sounded. I’ve had people try to drive all the way home.
3. Telltale indicators the car is stolen, like a dirty licence plate on a clean car, or the opposite. Licence plate screws with nicks or scratches. A bug-covered front licence plate on the rear bumper. Expired or missing registration stickers.
4. Visibility inside the car. Heavily tinted windows are a potential hazard.
5. Not seeing the car indicate a shift into park — backup lights flash momentarily, brake lights go out. Brake lights that stay on indicate the car is still in drive and the driver is preparing to take off.
6. Trunk lid or tailgate not latched. This can foreshadow an ambush.
7. Inside the car, people who don’t make eye contact. Most people look at the cop. People trying to conceal expression or eye appearance face away or forward.
8. Items on the seats or floor than can conceal a weapon or contraband. Towels, blankets or newspapers are suspicious.
9. Liquid on the floor. People drinking in the car will try and put their bottles or glasses on the floor. I had one driver put a full beer bottle into the glove compartment. The foamy beer was running out of the glove box and onto the floor while he tried to pretend it wasn’t happening.
10. A driver who can’t locate the registration and insurance papers. People know where these are in their own cars, but not in cars they ave stolen.
11. Drivers who page through the wallets repeatedly, looking for their driver’s licenses, after the cop has seen it go by three or four times. Drunks do this.
If you want to present the least-threatening profile to the police, when you see the overhead lights come on:
1. Pull over immediately, even if you don’t like that location. If the cop wants you to relocate, he’ll tell you over the car’s PA system.
2. Roll down all the windows. If it’s night time, turn on the interior lights.
3. Put the car in park (or neutral, if a manual transmission) and set the parking brake. If the officer tells you to turn off the engine, do so.
4. Put your hands on top of the steering wheel. Tell any passengers to keep their hands in plain view. Do not reach for your licence, registration, insurance, etc. until the officer is looking inside your car and you tell him what you are going to do.
5. You don’t have to kiss the cop’s a–, but be polite. This is a business transaction. It isn’t personal.
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