Saturday, February 18, 2006

Say Hello to the Nice Officer

Officer: Okay, pal, where's the fire.
Driver: In your eyes, officer.
Officer laughs with evil intent.

Okay. What should you do when a cop stops you?

Rule #1. Don't be stupid.

When an officer stops you, don't reach under the seat while she's approaching the car. You may end up with a 9mm semi-auto screwed in your ear. Don't try to switch places with your passenger. Don't jump out of your car and run back to the police car while she's just getting out of hers. Wait in your car. Get out if she tells you, otherwise sit and be patient. Tell her if you need to reach into the glove box or the console for your registration.

Rule #2. Show respect
This doesn't mean you don't have to be overly nice, but do show the officer the same respect you think you deserve. You may not get it, but we'll have the discussion on handling rude cops another time. Two reasons for showing respect. First, cops are the masters of the one-liner put down. They sit in roll call, in coffee shops and in the locker room trading quips. You'll never win. Second (and more important), you've just committed Contempt of Cop. You will now discover it's exactly how creative this officer can be. Don't let your passenger be a knucklehead. If your passenger starts chipping his teeth at the officer, you're the one that will get the extra tickets, not him. Don't let yourself be punished because your buddy flunked the attitude test.

Rule #3. Don't argue.
State your case calmly and firmly. Save the arguments for the judge. Arguing will only get you in deeper doo-doo.

Rule #4. Don't talk too much.
As a driver, you're under obligation to answer questions to prove your identity, your right to drive a vehicle and that you have the right to drive the particular vehicle you're in. You don't have to answer questions like: "Do you know why I stopped you?" or "Do you know how fast you were going?" Most traffic offenses are infractions or violations and do not require a Miranda warning, but you still have a right against self incrimination. Exercise your right. Otherwise, the officer will note anything incriminating you say and use it against you in court. Be tactful, be polite, but don't talk yourself into a corner. If push comes to shove, tell the officer that your attorney has advised you not to answer that question.

Rule #5. Don't lie.
Seems obvious, but people don't think through the consequences before lying. If one thing will piss a cop off, it's having someone lie to her. Once she figures it out, she'll get writer's cramp filling out all those citations.

Rule #6. Take notes.
After the officer is finished with the stop, she will take a moment to note who, what, where, when, why and how. If you are cited, do the same. If you have a camera in your car, take pictures of the location to document the weather, the condition of the roadway, signs and anything else that might have a bearing on your case. Don't photograph the cop unless you are a sado-masochist. Tape-recording the cop? Depends. It's sure to piss the cop off, and in Oregon, you need to notify someone before you tape record their conversation. If you don't, you'll be wearing a nice set of stainless steel bracelets. But if the cop is a jerk, it might be worth the risk.

Optional tactic #1. Schmoozing
Generally there are three kind of cops that will stop you.
First are the ones that love chasing taillights. You can spot these officers by their mirrored sunglasses. They often ride motorcycles or drive unmarked police cars. They write 10-20 tickets a day. That's their job. Schmoozing won't work. They don't care if you're a nice guy. They're passionate about one thing: writing that ticket.
The second type (and the largest group) are those that can take or leave writing traffic tickets. Schmoozing may or may not work depending on whether they've had a fight with the old lady before their shift or if their sergeant is on their ass for poor production. Try it, why not.
The final group are the officers that don't like working traffic. You've probably done something exceedingly dumb to get stopped like running the red light in front of them or cutting them off. Schmooze away, chat them up, it'll probably work.

Optional tactic #2. Turning on the tears.
Every cop has had someone tell them how they got out of a ticket by crying. Maybe they did, maybe the driver was cute or reminded the officer of their mother, but it probably won't work a second time. Traffic cops (group 1) above, are used to tears. They don't care. Most other officers who have been on the street for a while are used to tears. No predicting how they'll react. I've written tickets while the driver sobbed away and I've cut people a break. It depends on the offense and how sincere I thought they wear. Some drivers swear by crying, but if the officer figures out what you're doing, he'll laugh his evil laugh while he writes that citation.

Next time: Dealing with the judge.

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