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What to Do If You Are Stopped by a Police Officer

Frequently in the course of carrying out their duties in law enforcement, it becomes necessary for police officers to stop a person and make an inquiry such as:

  • What is your name?
  • What is your address?
  • Do you have any identification?
  • But sometimes a very routine encounter may cause a person to feel intimidated or to respond in a manner which gives rise to conflict or suspicion.

The Florence Township Police Department strives to provide service to everyone in the community fairly and equally. We hope that the information on this page will be helpful in explaining why an officer may have to stop and question a citizen and reduce elements of conflict when confronted by an officer. It will explain what to expect if a police officer stops you for questioning and also provide some guidelines on how to respond to the questioning process. You are cautioned, however, that this is not a legal advisory.

Why Question?
When law enforcement representatives question a person, there are underlying reasons. They may be checking out a complaint phoned into police by someone in the neighborhood. They may have received a report of some criminal activity which has just occurred in the area. Your presence might indicate that you are a potential witness who would be able to provide valuable information in an investigation. In some cases the officers’ observations might lead them to think you are having trouble and need assistance. The best way for them to clarify the situation is to ask questions. With all due respect to citizens’ rights, officers have a responsibility to properly investigate matters which may threaten public safety or involve breaking the law. Their questions are not necessarily an accusation, and your cooperative response can alleviate potential conflict.

If the Police Stop You . . . On the Street
Sometimes problems arise when it seems as if a police officer has stopped to question you for what appears to be no reason at all. Since the time factor may be crucial in investigating a possible crime, police officers are trained to observe and evaluate a situation and to act if they have a reasonable suspicion that you may in some way be involved in an incident. There are many factors that officers take into consideration in determining if they have a reasonable suspicion to stop and question someone. Every situation is different, but some factors they may consider are:

  • Police may have a minimal description of a suspect which you might resemble.
  • Your actions appear to be suspicious (i.e. running from an area where a crime has just been committed) and you act even more suspiciously when you see the police officer.
  • Someone may have pointed you out as a suspect.
  • Your forthright responses, if an officer does stop and question you, will usually quickly resolve the situation. If the officer has not told you why you have been stopped, you may inquire. If, despite these considerations, you feel that you do not want to respond, the officer must respect your right not to answer. However, your cooperation would be most helpful in aiding a police investigation.

If the Police Stop You . . . In Your Car
A traffic stop is one of the most frequent encounters between citizens and police. Usually, police officers will pull a vehicle over if they have reason to believe that some offense has occurred. You may feel anxious, irritated at the delay, or concerned about a possible citation. However, officers are also concerned about possible threats to their personal safety while performing their duties. The following recommended procedures will ensure that the traffic stop can be completed quickly and safely.

  • When signaled by an officer, safely pull over to a place out of traffic flow.
  • Sit calmly, with your hands visible on the steering wheel. If you have passengers, ask them to sit quietly with their hands visible. (Avoid sudden movements or ducking in the seat; these actions can unnecessarily alarm the officer.
  • If it is night, turn on your inside light when you pull the car over. For safety reasons, the officer will want to visually scan the car’s interior before proceeding.
  • Do not get out of your car unless the officer asks you to step out. If you are asked to do so, comply in a calm manner.
  • A sure way to put an officer at ease is to communicate your actions in advance by telling the officer what you will be doing before you move. Also, you can ask to see the officer’s identification.
  • If requested, you must give the officer your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Tell the officer where it is before reaching for it - especially if it is tucked away in the glove box or some other unusual place.

If the Police Come to Your Door

Usually if a police officer knocks on your door, it is for one of the following reasons:

  • To interview you or a member of your household as a witness to an incident that is being investigated.
  • To make a notification.
  • To serve an arrest warrant.
  • To serve a search and seizure warrant.
  • Whenever police come to your door, they should willingly provide identification and state their purpose for being there. However, when serving a warrant, officers may dispense with the knock and announce requirement if they believe some emergency circumstances exist which necessitate a speedy or unannounced entry. Examples of such circumstances include, but are not limited to, protection of life or the possibility that evidence might be destroyed. If the officers have a warrant, you may ask to see a copy of it. Although, if it is an arrest warrant, it is not necessary for the warrant to be in the officers’ possession for them to make an arrest. You must comply with the warrant and admit the officers into your house.

An arrest warrant commands a police officer to arrest the person named in the warrant. An arrest warrant permits the entry into a suspect's residence to look for the suspect when there is reason to believe the suspect is in the residence. A search and seizure warrant is a document supported by an affidavit and signed by a judge commanding a police officer to search a specifically named premise for the property or person described in the warrant. The officer will provide the resident with a copy of the warrant after reading the contents of the warrant to them. Once the search is completed, a list of the property seized will be provided.

An officer may execute a search and seizure warrant at any time of the day (unless a specific time frame is specified on the warrant). The owner/occupant does not have to be present. When this occurs, a copy of the warrant and inventory will be left at the residence in a conspicuous location.
Police officers may conduct a search without a warrant in certain situations. Two main examples of when this might occur would be in situations involving the emergency circumstances noted above or searches done with the consent of a person have authority over the property. If you consent to a search, you have the right to withdraw that consent at any time during the search. Just clearly tell the officers that you wish the search to stop.

Generally, Police Officers Will . . .

  • Provide their name (s) upon request.
  • If in plain clothes, identify the themselves when taking action.
  • Inform a person about the reason for being stopped or questioned.
  • Only use the amount of force necessary to effect the arrest of a suspect. Excessive force is not tolerated by the Florence Township Police Department.

Final Note

Law enforcement, by its very nature, is often an unpleasant business. Police officers deal with many dangerous and desperate criminals in a climate of negativity, animosity and resentment of their presence. However, the stories of major crimes, arrests and related incidents usually covered in the news media represent only a part of the service that officers of the Florence Township Police Department provide for the residents of Florence Township each and every day. Much more often, police officers interact with the public in a productive and helpful service, where their professionalism, courtesy and courage are always appreciated and valued. 

The Florence Township Police Department recognizes that mistakes may be made and the actions of our officers may fall short of expectancy. The Department has established rules and regulations and standing operating procedures governing the professional and personal conduct of employees and acceptable work performance standards. These guidelines are designed to protect the well-being and the rights of all citizens and employees. The Internal Affairs Division will thoroughly investigate all complaints of misconduct by employees regardless of the foundation. Anyone who files a complaint will be treated with courtesy and respect.

 

711 Broad Street  •  Florence, NJ 08518  •  609-499-2525