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Why Would the Police Stop Me?

Why Would the Police Stop Me?

Understandably, people can become offended or angry because an officer stops them for questioning. At times people have been subjected to racial profiling and excessive force. There also have been cases where the police stopped or arrested people based upon mistaken reports or identifications.

Although the delay of a police stop might be inconvenient, maddening or embarrassing, it is important to remember that the officer must believe there is a reason (reasonable suspicion) to stop you and ask you some questions. Even if you believe that the stop is improper, you and the officer share a common objective - to conclude the stop without any risk to personal safety. Police misconduct can be addressed at a later time.

The reasons for a police stop can vary, but usually involve the investigation of criminal activity, a dangerous situation, or the officer’s need for your assistance. It is important to remember that police remain on heightened alert because of a wide range of terrorism threats to public safety. 

For reasons of urgency or confidentiality, a police officer cannot always explain why you have been stopped. Some police departments, however, now have procedures for providing you with a written explanation of the reasons for the stop, as well as identifying the officer involved.  

The most common reasons for a lawful stop include:

  • You might be one of only a few people walking around in the area where a crime was recently committed.
  • Your clothing or description might be similar or identical to that worn by a criminal suspect or a fugitive.
  • Someone might have called 911 or pointed you out, believing you had committed or were about to commit a crime.
  • The police may have general information about an imminent threat or attack.
  • You may have been behaving in a way that the law recognizes as suspicious.
  • You could have been a witness who has seen someone or something that might assist the police in an investigation.
  • It may appear that you and others are having a disagreement that could lead to violence.
  • You might appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
  • You may appear to be physically or mentally ill and in need of medical aid.
  • You could appear to be lost or in need of general assistance.
  • If driving, you may have committed a traffic violation or your car may be in need of repairs.
  • The police may be stopping all cars to check for intoxicated or impaired drivers.
  • The police may be stopping all individuals because of an ongoing investigation.
  • They may be directing you away from a dangerous situation.

Police officers should not want to detain you any longer than necessary. 

Once the officer is able to determine that you are not a “person of interest” or in need of help, the officer should thank you for your assistance and return to duty.

Try to remember, citizens and the police share a common goal for the end of the day. Getting home safely. 

Note: There are many ways to pursue your complaints after your encounter, often with the assistance of an attorney, or through government and community organizations, as well as the courts. Until then, avoid any additional problems. Keep yourself, the officer, and the public safe. 

Remember: Officers’ names and numbers are on their uniforms and badges. Their patrol cars are also marked with a number. This information is available so you can later raise any questions, suggestions or complaints you might have about your encounter. Also, the police, bystanders and public security cameras may be recording the interaction and be a source of evidence. Behave accordingly.

The content conveyed in this app does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such. It also is not intended to communicate all relevant information. Other sources on this subject may prove to be helpful, including local police departments, district attorneys, public defenders’, the U.S. Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Design and technology contributed by Genome.