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Uncharted: traffic stops are gateway drug for police

Publisher Jarrette Fellows, Jr. offers some common wisdom to avoid confrontations with police

Traffic stops during an unending climate of police belligerence can lead to unintended consequences; common wisdom suggests avoiding confrontation with police

Police officers have tremendous latitude to execute traffic stops. It’s easier than you think to get pulled over for reasons not including the big five – speeding, hand-held cell phone use/texting, reckless driving, equipment violations, traffic miscues. These are obvious. But, if a police officer just wants to pull you over, he or she has tremendous latitude to do so.

ComptonHerald.com | Uncharted

“Uncharted” is commentary by Jarrette D. Fellows, Jr.

Considering the current climate and upsurge of police officer-involved shootings and killings of Black males across the nation, common wisdom suggests avoiding confrontation with police wholesale, and that means traffic stops. Pay close attention to some vague reasons why a police officer or patrol deputies have probable cause to turn on their “lights” to pull you over. By seeing driving behavior from the traffic cop’s point of view can help you avoid encounters with them.

It doesn’t take much

Obstruction of rear view mirror. It could be a graduation tassel, hanging dice, or an air freshener suspended by a string that is clearly below the glass mirror not obstructing your view at all. But if the traffic officer determines it is a hindrance from his vantage point, he may execute a traffic stop. The Department of Motor Vehicles lists no such obstruction. Information on several attorney websites contend that simply hanging an item from the rear view mirror does not constitute an offense; it must block the mirror. Again, an officer can use their discretion to size up what they consider cause for a traffic stop.

The latitude is far-ranging. Eating or drinking a beverage while driving is not illegal, but if an officer determines that driving with one hand may contribute to a traffic hazard, the motorist will more than likely be pulled over.

Ask a cop: it’s different for suburban drivers

Speaking with a former Inglewood police officer who will remain anonymous, I learned of the wide latitude police officers have in monitoring vehicular traffic, and who to pull over and who not to pull over. One thing is for certain: There is a disparity in what constitutes reasons for traffic stops in an urban versus suburban environment, according to the officer.

Something seemingly as inconsequential as nervously looking in the rear view mirror at a police car or motorcycle officer following behind your vehicle. Black males four-deep in an automobile. Fitting the description of a criminal suspect. Driving on a bald tire. Driving two miles over the speed limit. Abruptly turning down an alley or side street. Nervous, fidgety body language. Decals or bumper stickers deemed offensive to a police officer. None of these are illegalities and probably would not engender as much as cursory look from a traffic officer in the suburbs. On urban streets these would likely incite strong suspicion, according to the officer.

Stop asking for trouble

In view of the many excuses police officers use for encounters with urban motorists, Black males in particular, should avoid the obvious attention-getters like loud mufflers, loud music volume, low-rider equipment violations (thin inward-leaning tires, hydraulics), smoking marijuana while driving with fumes wafting in the wake of a vehicle, smoky car interior with windows rolled up, driving more slowly than the normal traffic flow, peeling out from a stoplight or stop sign, squealing tires, drag racing, over-the-limit passengers, or flicking a cigarette butt to the street. These constitute probable cause or suspicion of criminal activity and will engender a traffic stop.

Additionally, traffic stops often have a tipping point. Because officers have legal discretion in what they can cite you for, saying or doing the wrong thing can compound your problems, notes Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association. NMA advocates for full due process for motorists and is often critical of law enforcement’s handling of traffic stops. He says that a traffic cop might add extra violations if the motorist is belligerent. Act like a jerk, “They’ll write you up for everything else they can.”

Paying attention to the aforementioned and you reduce your chances of being pulled over by the police.

Jarrette Fellows, Jr. is Publisher and Editor of Compton Herald. He attended junior and senior high school in Compton, and is an alumnus of California State University, Los Angeles.


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