Navigating the intricacies of traffic stops

Published: Apr. 12, 2018 at 8:49 PM MDT
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When you hear sirens behind you, you might begin to panic. Cpl. Chris Bratt with the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office let KMVT ride around with him at night while he performed traffic stops.

“You got your license registration insurance with ya? Awesome,” said Cpl. Bratt.

The Twin Falls Police Department allowed KMVT the same access during the day.

“Don’t automatically assume I’m writing you a ticket,” said Sgt. Ryan Howe.

But many still wonder, what are you required to do during a traffic stop? And what will make it all go a little easier?

“Sometimes we may be pulling you over for something very minor,” Howe said.

Regardless of the reason for the stop, be prepared to provide three legal documents: driver’s license, current registration and proof of insurance, which with today’s technology can come from a cellular device.

“You do not want to be digging through your glove box or through your wallet or your purse to try to provide those documents,” said local criminal defense attorney Lynn Dunlap.

Many drivers had several years’ worth of registrations stashed away in their car making it messy and confusing for both parties. Law enforcement suggests removing the old registration each time you replace it with the new one to eliminate handing over the wrong paperwork.

Lynn Dunlap has been practicing in Twin Falls for almost 30 years. He believes in letting law enforcement know where potential threats are, like if you’re carrying a gun.

“When an officer comes up, advise him that you have weapons in the vehicle,” Dunlap said.

Bratt asked drivers what questions they had. One woman from Nevada asked, “how far do you follow people before you get annoyed?” Officers say it all depends.

“What we’re looking for is as safe a place as that person can stop as quickly as they can,” said Bratt.

Most importantly, pull over to the right, on a side street, shoulder or well-lit parking lot. Left turns can cause traffic congestion. Every officer has a different approach.

“I will take the same amount of time that I would issue a citation and I’ll try and speak with somebody so they can see it from a different point of view,” Bratt said.

Motorists have a lot of misconceptions too. Officers rattle off some examples of things they’ve heard.

“If your police car is hidden you can’t stop me,” Howe said.

Bratt has heard some other ones.

“People that think that if they get to their driveway it’s kind of a kick the can issue and they’re able to circumvent our authority,” Bratt said.

Howe says he’s heard it all.

“Uhh, if I make three right turns you can’t stop me,” Howe said.

Officers say that sometimes a stop could seem random but might a part of a bigger issue.

“We might treat you as a criminal because we’ve had a report of something criminal that’s happened and we don’t know if we’ve got the right car or not,” said Howe.

It’s crucial that everyone keeps their attitudes in check.

“Do not argue,” Dunlap advises. “Be cooperative.”

Being respectful might make the encounter go a little smoother.

“If you act annoyed or bothered sometimes that takes us a little bit longer to work through,” Howe said.

During a stop is also not the time to plead your case.

“That’s why if you’re looking at something that’s going to affect your ability to drive you need to go over it with an attorney,” Dunlap said.

Howe said they are looking for specific offenses.

“If we’re stopping you there’s probably a good reason for it,” he explains.

Dunlap wishes his clients understood that your responses could make a situation worse.

“If he says I believe you failed to turn your signals on, you can simply say I disagree,” Dunlap said. “That’s it. You don’t have to say anything else. You shouldn’t say anything else.”

You can also protect yourself by making sure that your encounter is being recorded.

“Ask him if the tape is on, if he’s recording this and if he’s not, ask him if he can,” Dunlap said.

For Cpl. Bratt, he says it’s about education and preventing a future tragedy.

“I like to think that perhaps I saved someone’s life,” he explains. “I can’t prove it, but they also can’t prove that I didn’t.”

Dunlap says, it’s important to remember that officers are people too. During his encounters he’s learned a few things.

“I have learned that no matter what I may have or have not done at night turning on the dome light and putting my hands on the ceiling certainly makes an officer feel an awful lot better toward me,” he said..

Meanwhile, law enforcement has a goal as well.

“We want the relationship between the community and the police to work,” Howe said.

Bratt understands the comfortableness of the situation first-hand.

“I’ve had citations too,” he said. “And I will tell people at the car, I know it’s not pleasant.”

Sgt. Howe believes in treating each other like you want to be treated.

“Courtesy and honesty go a long way,” he said. “If somebodies honest with me and if they’re courteous a lot of times that goes a long way with the officer.”

Because ultimately, it’s their job.

“I have a responsibility to try to make sure that the streets or the highways or in some jurisdictions and interstate are safe as we can possibly make them and traffic enforcement is one of those duties,” Bratt said..