What to do if stopped by University Police
The Southeastern Louisiana University Police Department does not condone police misconduct of any type.
In our experience, we have learned negative feelings toward police may result from misconceptions about legal police procedures or a lack of understanding regarding why officers may come into contact with citizens. Citizens often wonder the reason(s) an officer has made certain requests or acted in a certain manner. Demands on a patrol officer and rapidly evolving situations do not always permit time for explanations at the time you are stopped. Hopefully, the information presented here will give you an understanding of some police procedures and let you know what to expect from a police officer if you are stopped.
Here are some tips to minimize your stress and anxiety during your contact with the police and at the same time give you some insight into the concerns and procedures of the officers.
If you are stopped by the police while in your car
As soon as you notice the police emergency lights safely pull your vehicle off the roadway. If possible, ensure your vehicle is completely clear of the roadway and the police vehicle also has enough room to clear the roadway.
Although you might not know the reason you are being stopped, you should pull over as soon as it is reasonably safe to do so.
- There may be some problem with your vehicle of which you are unaware.
- You may be heading into a dangerous area (traffic stopped, detour for flooding, power lines across the road, etc) and the officer is protecting you from injury or excessive delays.
- Your vehicle may match the description given to police related to an incident and the officer needs to speak with you to clear you of any involvement.
- You may have committed some minor traffic violation without realizing it.
Remain in your vehicle unless the officer instructs otherwise. Do not attempt to get out of your vehicle or approach the officer without instructions to do so. Exiting your vehicle before being instructed to do so does not assist the officer and may be perceived as a threat. For the officer's safety and yours, remain in your vehicle unless instructed to exit.
If stopped at night, turn on your interior light. A well-lit vehicle cabin will reduce the officer's concern regarding weapons or other possible threats within your reach.
Keep your hands easily observable, preferably on the steering wheel where they can be easily seen by the approaching officer. Reaching under your seat or into your glove box are actions that will cause the officer concern that you may be reaching for a weapon.
Provide your license, registration and proof-of-insurance to the officer if asked to do so. Louisiana law requires a driver provide these documents upon request from a uniformed officer or an officer in plain clothes who displays proper identification.
Most officers will not provide a specific reason(s) for the stop until they have received your license, registration and proof-of-insurance. This is to avoid debating the reason for the stop prior to acquiring this necessary information. If you wish to inquire as to why you were stopped or offer an explanation, do so after providing your license, registration, and insurance card and before the officer returns to his or her vehicle.
Answer all questions honestly without becoming argumentative, disorderly, or abusive. If an officer has already written a ticket, it cannot be voided at that time. If you believe that you have been issued a ticket unfairly, do not make that argument on the side of the road. Your best alternative is to carry your protest to traffic court or other appeals process.
Whether an officer issues you a ticket or gives you a warning is entirely up to their individual discretion. Your conduct during the stop may influence the officer's decision.
If the police approach you while sitting or walking
Most of these stops are not officer-initiated but are based on information or complaints provided by citizens.
The most common reasons an officer stops someone:
- You might be walking or sitting in the vicinity where a crime recently occurred. You may not even realize a crime occurred nearby until the officer explains why he/she stopped to talk with you.
- You may match the description given to police of someone involved in or witnessing an incident and the officer needs to speak with you to clear you of any involvement.
- Someone may have called the police complaining about your presence or stated you were behaving "suspiciously."
- Someone may have pointed you out to the officer and said you were involved in or witnessed an incident.
- You might be acting in a manner the officer finds suspicious and may act even more "suspicious" after realizing the officer is observing you.
Please remember, the officer does not know you, your history or purpose for being where you are, or anything else about you until after he/she has met with you. Although you may have done nothing wrong and have no intention of causing any issues, hurting the officer, or committing any crime, the officer cannot be sure of this until after the interaction has concluded.
Innocent individuals are often offended or angered, or both, because an officer has detained them for questioning. Although the delay might be inconvenient for you, the officer believes there is a reason (reasonable suspicion) to stop you and ask questions. The police officer does not wish to detain you any longer than necessary. Once an officer is able to determine you are not the individual for whom he or she is looking, the officer will often apologize for the inconvenience and then quickly leave to resume the search.
In all police encounters
Please don't be offended by an officer's caution while interacting with you. You may know for certain you have no intention of harming the officer or anyone else, but the officer has no way of knowing this until the interaction has concluded. Most citizens realize law enforcement is a difficult and dangerous profession. Hundreds of police officers are killed each year, and thousands more are injured and assaulted. For these reasons, police officers tend to be extremely cautious. They place a great deal of emphasis on safety and survival. Certain safety practices are instilled in our officers from the first day of their careers. Although the procedures maximize safety for the officer, they may seem standoffish or impolite to citizens who may not consider such precautions necessary.
Avoid making sudden movements (for your wallet, into your coat, toward your waistband, swinging your arms, etc.) until you have informed the officer of your intention to do so and the officer has said it's okay.
Do not carry weapons on campus (real or otherwise) or even joke about having a weapon on your person.
Do not touch the police officer or close into his or her personal safety zone (about six feet.)
Remain calm and avoid being argumentative. If you are uncooperative and refuse to answer reasonable questions, the officer is likely to become more suspicious and the encounter will probably last much longer.
Comply with reasonable requests and seek an explanation from the officer or the officer's supervisor later.
The officers and staff of the University Police Department wish to maintain a relationship with our community based on mutual respect and assistance. We hope the information provided here will help achieve and preserve such a relationship. We welcome reasonable, constructive feedback and suggestions regarding the services we provide.