If you own an Android phone, the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has just released an app called “Police Tape” that allows users to document, via video, an encounter with police.
The function of the app is simple: get stopped by the police, and it allows you to surreptitiously tape the encounter, as the app isn't displayed during the taping process. When the traffic stop or stop-and-frisk is over, the app automatically uploads the footage to the NJ ACLU servers for review, and also so the footage can’t be erased by police.
There are even sections that explain your rights during a traffic stop, ID check, home visit or arrest, although we're not sure how helpful that will be during an encounter with the police.
Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of these-are-your-rights-during-a-traffic-stop videos, and the common theme to all is that they’re filled with lots of advice, that, while technically and legally correct, will likely do more harm than good. At the very least, most guarantee that the officer will issue you a citation, when a brief dialogue may have gotten you just a warning.
We’ll let you in on a little secret: some of us on the High Gear Media staff come from law-enforcement families, and most of us have had our share of traffic stops over the years. Below is our compilation of advice designed to help you during a traffic stop, whether or not you own a smartphone.
Put the officer at ease when you pull over
For just one second, put yourself in the shoes of the officer who just stopped you. As he approaches your window, he doesn’t know if you simply weren’t paying attention to the speed limit, or if you’re a convicted felon in a stolen car with a loaded handgun and nothing left to lose.
First, pull as far off the road as you safely can, so the officer can approach your window without stepping into traffic. Next, fully drop both windows, turn off the radio, turn on your hazards, put the car in park and kill the ignition. Your hands should go on the steering wheel, at the 10:00 and 2:00 position, in plain sight. Hands kill, so few things put experienced officers on edge quite as much as not being able to see yours.
Be honest, and communicate
Here’s key tip number one: lying will almost always get you a ticket. Telling the truth, on the other hand, may not. If you know you were speeding and the officer asks, “Do you know why I stopped you,” your best response is probably along the lines of “Ah crap, I should have been paying more attention to my speed.” Saying things like “I have no idea,” or “I couldn’t have been speeding” will get you nowhere, and most officers are pretty good at recognizing deception.
Before you start reaching for the glove box to grab your registration and insurance card, let the officer know this. It’s nothing more than a courtesy, but it further communicates that you’re not a threat.
Police officers are no different than the rest of us, and all of us like to see achievement recognized. Phony “sirs” will get you nowhere, but correctly identifying the officer as “trooper,” or “corporal,” or “sergeant” is a small mark in your favor. When in doubt, stick to “officer.”
If you have a PBA or FOP card, use it
The effectiveness of these cards, often given to friends and family of law enforcement, is the subject of some debate. If you have one, and if you know the officer who issued it, presenting the card with your license and registration can’t hurt. If you don’t personally know the officer whose name is on the back, don’t even bother to produce the card, which brings us to our next point.
Don’t name drop
If you really were the mayor’s brother in law, or the police chief’s fishing buddy, chances are good the officer stopping you would already know this. Who you may or may not know isn’t going to be as helpful as being courteous and cooperative throughout the encounter.
Never argue with the officer
Most of us have gotten tickets that we felt we didn’t deserve. Sometimes, it’s just your turn at the plate, and sometimes you get saddled with an officer who will write you up no matter what. There is one universal truth to a police encounter: you will never win an argument with a cop.
As in any other profession, there are people in law enforcement who chose the wrong career. If you feel your rights were in any way violated, make a note of the officer’s name and badge number, then report the incident to his supervisor in as much detail as you can, as soon as you can. Go as high up the police chain of command as you need to before you get a satisfactory response; if an individual officer really is a problem, chances are his tour commander will want to know about it. Also remember that many police cruisers are now equipped with dash cams; if your rights are violated, this evidence may work in your favor.
As with life, there are no guarantees during a traffic stop. Follow all these steps to the letter, and you still may get a ticket, whether you deserve it or not. If you were doing anything illegal at the time of the stop, chances are good the officer will be able to figure this out rather quickly, at which time you will likely be in need of a lawyer and not just a smartphone app.
While this advice is based on our own experience, we recognize that not everyone will have the same view of law enforcement as we do. Regardless, nothing will be gained by putting the police on the defensive, so the best advice we can offer is treat the officer as you’d like to be treated. Showing respect is the first step towards getting respect in return.
As for the ACLU-NJ app, it's currently available for the Android platform only. An iPhone version is said to be in the works.