We Can Do This

Sheriff Eric Levett

Today we have a lot of media coverage of negative encounters with law enforcement. I would like to take the opportunity to discuss and provide some tips that will improve your experience with law enforcement agents during a traffic stop.

When a law enforcement officer/deputy sheriff begins to pull you over, what you do and say can have a huge effect on any legal proceedings that might follow. Whether the traffic stop ends in a simple moving violation or an arrest for a more serious crime, your choices are critical.

When you see the law enforcement vehicle:

If a law enforcement vehicle is following you with its siren blaring or emergency lights flashing, pull over to the right side of the roadway quickly (but safely) and come to a complete stop in a safe place. If you are looking for a lighted area, you should give the officer/deputy a sign that you acknowledge their presence or you should call the 911 dispatch and ask them to inform the officer/deputy of your intentions.

What to do right after you are stopped:

After you’ve pulled over to a safe spot, you should normally turn off your engine and any other devices (radio, CD player, tape player or cellphone). You should roll down your window all the way so you can communicate with the officer. If your stop takes place in the dark, turn on your flashers and the vehicle’s interior light so that the officer can easily see that everything is in order. It is important that you remain calm and ask all passengers to remain quiet and calm as well.

Keep your seat belt fastened and have all passengers to do the same. Keep your hands in plain view by placing them on the steering wheel. Do not make any movements that might be interpreted that you are hiding or searching for something. Stay in the car unless the officer/deputy directs you to get out. Do not start rummaging through your back pocket for your wallet and license, or in your glove compartment for your registration, until the officer/deputy asks you for them.

Officer/Deputy Encounter:

The officer/deputy will ask for your valid driver’s license, proof of vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Tell the officer where these documents are located and reach for them slowly, keeping one hand on the steering wheel.

Communicate clearly with the officer/deputy. Answer all questions fully and clearly. If you disagree with the officer/deputy, this is not the time to discuss your point of view. Wait until you have a chance to present it before a judge in court.

Ensure that you are clear and understand the charge or citation. If you are not clear, ask the officer/deputy for an explanation in a respectful manner. Refusal to sign the citation can result in an arrest. Remember, your signature is not an admission of guilt. It only means that you received the citation.

Weapon possession:

If you are in possession of a weapon, let the officer/deputy know you have a weapon in the car and if you have a legal permit to carry it.

If asked to exit the vehicle for a pat down, do not resist. This is done if the officer/deputy has suspicion that you may be carrying something that may jeopardize the officer’s/deputy’s safety. Do not be surprised if another patrol car appears. This is only to assure everyone’s safety.

Follow up:

If you believe that the officer/deputy acted inappropriately or irresponsibly, document the officer’s/deputy’s behavior in a written statement and submit it to the officer’s/deputy’s agency within a few days of the incident. Ensure you call the agency and follow their established complaint procedure. Complaints can be filed at the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office with the Office of Professional Standards at 770-278-8058.

Always remember and practice the Golden Rule: Treat the officer/deputy like you would want to be treated. Treat officers/deputies with respect and teach your children how to treat law enforcement agents with respect.

Eric Levett is sheriff of Rockdale County.


I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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