What to do when you’re stopped by the cops

By Amy Huber, Editor –

Knowing that to do – and what not to do – when stopped by the police could make the

difference between a positive interaction and a negative one.

With that in mind, a recent panel discussion focused on appropriate driver behavior when

stopped by police. Panel members included several area law enforcement representatives, and the

event was moderated by Nicholas Budimir, sociology professor.

Audience volunteers were encouraged to role play, switching places, and portraying the

police officers, while actual police officers played the part of citizens being pulled over.

The discussion was a part of the ongoing “And Justice for All” series at MCC. This

presentation was led by Jeffrey Lewis, director of Muskegon Public safety. Panelists included

Sgt. Marvin Petty of the Muskegon Heights Police Department and Charles Ayers assistant

public defender for Muskegon County.

Lewis showed a video of a recent local case of a driver with a suspended license and expired

tags. When stopped, the driver was asked to take the keys out of the ignition and not to drive


She became agitated, so the officer removed the keys from her car and she was either

bumped or accidentally struck in the mouth while the officer was doing this. She became very

angry at this point, called 911 on the officer and requested other officers be called to the scene.

Lewis said that the outcome of this encounter could have been her going to jail, but because

of his and other officers’ intervention, they defused the situation and she went home with only a

ticket and a court appearance.

The video of this stop also appeared on Facebook because it had been recorded, and it has

been watched thousands of times.

“I just wonder whether this would have been handled differently if people weren't recording

the stop?” said Budimir. “An important lesson that we learned is that we are not always sure how

the people in the car are going to act and that the officer needs to be aware and ready for many

different responses from those people who get pulled over. Even if for just a moment, to stand in

the officer’s shoes was at least instructive to understand the uncertainty of what they may


Panelists discussed what they look for in terms of behavior and identification while

performing a traffic stop, as well as difficulties they encounter during the numerous stops they

make on any given shift. Above all, they stressed the importance of remaining calm when being

pulled over.

John Selmon, MCC vice-president of student affairs blames young people’s fear of law

enforcement on media and negative messages.

“Some young people have had bad experiences themselves or know someone has,” said

Selmon, who offered some advice to students. Comply and complain later. Listen carefully and

follow directions…it could be a lifesaver!”

Attendees were given a clear sleeve to keep in their car, which contains six simple rules:

1. Remain calm

2. Slow down and pull to the right or onto a side street as soon as possible.

3. Do not make any sudden moves– Keep your hands where the officer can see them.

4. Do not exit the vehicle unless asked to buy the officer.

5. Wait for the officers’ instructions and provide the information requested.

6. Communication and cooperation will provide for the best experience.

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