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Stopped By The Cops – How Were You Treated?

Posted by Scot D. Goldberg | Oct 23, 2013 | 0 Comments

New Study Reports on People's Perceptions of Police Behavior

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Just about all of us have been through it – being pulled over, or stopped on the street, by a law enforcement officer. Many times, the interaction goes fairly well, depending on what you are being stopped for. But in some instances, the person getting pulled over, or otherwise having some form of interaction with the cops, comes away with a bad taste in their mouth.

Or, let's say you haven't even been pulled over. Maybe you've stopped next to a parked cruiser to ask directions, and you found the cop to be rude, non-responsive or worse. Ever felt like you were being given the third degree, interrogated for something that had nothing to do with your stopping to ask directions? Well, there's a separate report on that, called Requests for Police Assistance, 2011, also published in September of this year.

But, let's focus on being pulled over or stopped while in a public place. Ever get the feeling that the cop has an attitude problem? Maybe he had a big spat with the wife that day, or maybe he or she is just generally kind of a moron. Still, that's no excuse to treat someone disrespectfully, or worse, acting in an unlawful manner.

Yet it happens all the time. To be sure, there are really good cops out there – lots of them. And in most run-ins with the law, everything goes smoothly. Sure, you may get a ticket, if justified, or maybe just a warning. But if the cop is doing his job correctly, he won't treat you like dirt, talk down to you or use any derogatory language, or speak to you in a condescending or rude way.

Yet you may be surprised on how many cops treat people that way.

In September 2013, The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics published a twenty-two page report entitled, Police Behavior during Traffic and Street Stops, 2011. The very detailed results were taken from the Bureau of Justice Statistics 2011 Police-Public Contact Survey, (PPCS), a supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey. This data is collected from a nationally representative sample of persons in U.S. households. The PPCS information comes from interviews with people who have had contact with police during the previous 12-month period, and includes results from those who were driving a motor vehicle, (Traffic Stops), and people who were in a public place, but not in any kind of vehicle, referred to in the report as Street Stops.

Here are the actual questions used in the Police-Public Contact Survey:

1). Perceptions of police behavior
Q. Looking back in this contact, do you feel the police behaved properly?
2). Perceptions of legitimacy of stop
Q. Would you say that the police officer(s) had a legitimate reason for stopping you?
3). Perceptions of legitimacy of search
Q. Do you think the police officers had a legitimate reason to search the vehicle (asked of drivers in traffic stops only)?
Q. Do you think that police officers had a legitimate reason to search you, frisk you, or pat you down?
4). Perceptions of police use of force
Q. Did you feel that this/these action(s) [used by police against you] was/were necessary?
Q. Did you feel any of the force used or force threatened against you was excessive?

We have a link to the entire report at the end of this legal blog, but here are some of the highlights:

  • White drivers were both ticketed and searched less often than black and Hispanic drivers
  • About 19% of people involved in a street stop were searched or frisked. The majority of those searched did not believe the cops had a legitimate reason.
  • Of those involved in traffic or street stops, fewer blacks thought the police behaved properly during the interaction than did whites or Hispanics.
  • 71% of those involved in street stops felt the cops did not behave properly, while that number in traffic stops was 88%.
  • Drivers pulled over by a cop of the same race or ethnicity were more likely to feel there was a legitimate reason for the stop, as opposed to those being pulled over by a cop of a different race or ethnicity.
  • Less than 50% of people searched by cops who did not ask permission felt the police behaved properly during the traffic stop.

The report's results are extremely detailed, and packed with charts, tables and graphs, but as you might expect from a publication produced by the U.S. Department of Justice, there are no warm and fuzzy summations of exactly what all the data means. It's “just the facts, Ma'am”, and we are left to our own perceptions as to just what it all means.

You psychology majors out there will enjoy spending hours poring over the details, with liberals most likely coming up with wildly differing takes than that of their conservative friends. This report makes for great cocktail party chit-chat, letting us delve into things like race relations, police brutality, the 4th Amendment, small-town vs. big city police departments, and so much more. Good times, indeed!

But here's the bottom line. In many legal cases that end up going before a judge or a jury, serious questions come up as to the exact reason for the accused being stopped in the first place, and whether the cops involved had reasonable cause to do what they did. The answers to those types of questions can greatly increase or decrease the accused's chances of being found innocent. As far as your legal rights, specifically those pertaining to the 4th Amendment of the U.S Constitution, certain things that happen during your interaction with a law enforcement officer have a huge bearing on the outcome of your individual situation.

As attorneys, we see so many situations in which a person's rights were not sufficiently protected, and the adversity and hassles they faced as a result. We know what to say – and what NOT to say – in the event that you are pulled over in your car, or stopped while walking around a street fair, music festival or other public event.

If you've recently been involved in a traffic stop or a street stop in which you think you were treated unreasonably or your legal rights were not respected, give us a call at 239-461-5508. It doesn't cost a thing to sit down with one of our attorneys to review the circumstances, and allow us to help you determine if you may have a case for financial compensation.

Here's a link to the entire report: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pbtss11.pdf

 

Photo Credit: Kipp Baker via: imager.io, cc

About the Author

Scot D. Goldberg

Local People. Local Practice. Local Knowledge. Scot Goldberg is a founding partner of the Goldberg Law Firm. See his attorney profile for more information.

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