We here at RideLust have previously presented video on dealing with police, and I’ve got to tell you that it’s perhaps the worst advice I’ve ever seen given. It’s ACLU bullshit; while technically correct, it’s guaranteed to get you a ticket, an ass kicking or a whole lot of trouble you don’t really need. Consider this: you’re at a traffic light that changes from red to green. You look left, and see a fully loaded dump truck steaming into the intersection at full speed; it’s your legal right to proceed, because it’s his obligation to stop. Would you rather be right, or ground into pavement pizza?
I’m not a lawyer, I don’t play one on TV and this article will not give you a single piece of legal advice, but here are my credentials. I come from a law enforcement family, and know more than a few cops. I’m a certified firearms instructor, which puts me in contact with cops and ex-cops on a regular basis. Think you need to know the law to drive a car? Try teaching a concealed carry class, where absolutely everything you say or do can bite you in the ass if one of your students is involved in a shooting.
If you’re guilty of something, chances are better than average a cop is going to know. Think he can’t smell that blunt you smoked an hour ago? Think that saying, “I don’t consent to a search” is going to make any difference when he sees a pipe in your center console? Think that copping a “I know my rights” attitude is going to help your case? You’d be wrong on all of the above.
There is no way that you’re going to avoid a ticket 100% of the time. If you get pulled over, chances are pretty damn good you’re getting stopped for a reason. Cops are just like the rest of us; they have good days and bad days. Most just want to do their tour and go home at the end of the day; make it easy for them, and chances are they’ll make it easy for you. Sure, there are asshole cops out there, but the vast majority I’ve ever met are pretty cool; treat them with respect and they’ll generally reciprocate.
Here are my top ten tips on avoiding a ticket. Feel free to agree, disagree or send me the money you save on the next ticket you get out of.
• Make sure your vehicle and its contents are legal
Sure, this may be obvious, but a lot of people don’t pay any attention to the state of their ride. Just bought a new car, with badass limo tint on all your windows? Expect to get stopped regularly, since that’s illegal in a lot of states (you can’t tint the front windows that dark). Got a tail light, brake like or directional out? Give a cop a reason to eye you, and that’s an excuse for a stop. Ditto for a cracked taillight or burned out headlight.
If your car is in compliance with your state’s vehicle code, you’ve just eliminated one reason for a traffic stop.
• When stopped, be courteous
The only good advice I witnessed in the first video (The Proper Way To Handle A Police Stop) was to keep your hands on the wheel. Look at the cop’s perspective; when he pulls you over, he doesn’t know that you’re a decent person. For all he knows, you could be a serial killer looking to put another notch on your Glock. Make him uneasy (leaving the driver’s window cracked and not fully open, for example) and he will make your life hell.
Here’s my sequence when stopped:
• Pull to the right shoulder as quickly as it’s safe to do so.
• Stereo off (and end any cell phone conversations).
• Motor off, car in park, handbrake applied.
• Driver and passenger window fully down, hands on the steering wheel.
When the cop asks you if you know why you were stopped, be honest. Bullshit does not get you bonus points; say, “I have no idea” when you were traveling 65 in a 35, and that’s guaranteed to get you a ticket. Say, “Ah crap. I should have been paying more attention to my speed” and you’ve begun the process of negotiating for a reduced fine or no ticket at all.
• Communicate, verbally and non-verbally
Cops like to see your hands. Why? Because hands are what kill. Reach quickly into the glove box for your registration and the cop may think you’re going for a gun. Paranoid? Perhaps, but wouldn’t you be if people tried to kill you on a regular basis?
I like to give the cop the following info: “Officer, my registration is in the glove box. Can I grab it?” Of course he’s going to say yes, and chances are you’ve just put him a bit more at ease.
If you carry a gun in the car (and a lot of people do these days), make sure you’re in compliance with any applicable state laws. Don’t keep your registration in the glove box if you carry a gun in there (which is a really, really bad idea, by the way). Don’t lie if the cop asks you directly, “Do you have any weapons in the car?”, because if he finds it later you will be in for a whole lot of grief.
• Recognize achievement
Cops like recognition as much as the rest of us. Pulled over by a state trooper? Call him “trooper” instead of “officer”. Stopped by a guy with two stripes on his sleeve? Call him “corporal”. Three stripes? Call him “sergeant”. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of this recognition than you will out of calling him sir; they know that you’re muttering ‘asshole’ under your breath, so the fake ‘sir’ doesn’t help your case in the least. When in doubt, stick to “officer”.
• Got any PBA or FOP cards? Use ‘em.
In my experience, a PBA/FOP card can often be the difference between a ticket and a warning. That said, make damn sure you know the cop whose name is on the card. You’ll get questions like “who is this” or “how do you know him”; if it’s a friend of a friend, be upfront. Cops know a lot of other cops, and they’ll pick up on bullshit in a heartbeat.
Hand the officer your driver’s license, insurance, registration and PBA card, but make sure the PBA/FOP card is on top of the pile so he sees it first.
• Be patient
I once got stopped in a small mountain town in Colorado, in the middle of the night. The cop alleged that I ran a stop sign, but I didn’t remember seeing one. I waited for 25 minutes while he ran my license and registration; when he came back to the car, he handed over my documents and apologized for the wait. No ticket, no warning, no nothing. Why? Because he was waiting me out. If I’d appeared nervous or anxious, he’d have found probable cause to search the car. My information came back clean and I wasn’t pacing back and forth, so he figured a ticket wasn’t worth the paperwork (or there really wasn’t a stop sign after all).
• Never argue with the cop
You can not win an argument with a cop. Piss him off, and the only thing I guarantee is that he’ll make your court date and remember every last detail of the stop. Make his life easy, and make your traffic stop forgettable, and you’ve just reduced the likelihood that he’ll remember the relevant details if you do need to go to court.
If he’s rude, or if you believe you were treated unfairly, get his name and badge number. Try to do this discreetly, because saying, “I want your name and badge number” isn’t going to help your case. You can report him to his supervisor, generally a patrol sergeant. If that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to bounce it up the food chain to the tour commander.
• Don’t drop names
You’re the brother in law of the chief of police? If that’s really the case, chances are good your stop would already be over. Know the mayor personally? So do 10,000 other people. Unless you can back it up, don’t even try this angle, because the cop has heard every story in the book a few thousand times. If you really are politically hooked up, the cop will realize this soon enough.
• Don’t party and drive
Drive drunk? Drive high? You’re living on borrowed time, and sooner or later you will get busted. And rightly so. Get your freak on at your local watering hole, or in the privacy of someone’s home. Call a sober friend, call a cab or walk home; whatever you do, don’t get behind the wheel or drive with someone else who’s wrecked.
• Don’t drive like an asshole
I love speed as much as the next guy (probably more than most), but there’s a time and a place for everything. Think it’s cool to drive 65 in a 25 every time you pick up your buddy for classes? Believe me, people notice, and sooner or later you’re going to get popped. Think you’re getting out of a ticket when Mrs. Suburban Homeowner is yelling at the cop, “That’s the driver I called you about, officer”?
Likewise, if you weave in and out of slower traffic, pass on the shoulder, roll through stop signs and generally ignore red lights, you’re going to get stopped. And you will get ticketed, no matter what kind of pull you’ve got.
So that’s about it for the advice I’ve got. Feel free to hit me with any questions on the topic, and I’ll give you some real-world wisdom, not the ACLU bullshit we previously put up.