Area Police Officers Advise Residents on What to do When You Are Stopped By the Police

Time to read
8 minutes
Read so far

Area Police Officers Advise Residents on What to do When You Are Stopped By the Police

April 22, 2012 - 19:19

NAACPNewRochelle PoliceStopsForum 188The New Rochelle Branch of the NAACP in conjunction with Xenia Lodge #50, F & A.M. (Prince Hall Masons) and Bethesda Baptist Church presented a forum Friday at Bethesda Baptist Church on "What to do When You Are Stopped By the Police". The evening, two years in the making, was billed as an opportunity to learn how to respond in a way to de-escalate the situation and preserve your rights and safety.

The panel included six active duty police officers, one retired police officer and a lawyer from the Westchester County DA's office. Jurisdictions represented on the panel included Pelham, Mount Vernon, New York City, the MTA and Westchester County.

Rev. Timothy McKnight gave the invocation and benediction. McKnight, an ordained minister, is also a detective with the New Rochelle Police Department but did not participate in his role as a police officer.

Ronald H. Williams, President of the New Rochelle Branch of the NAACP served as the moderator for the event.

NAACPNewRochelle PoliceStopsForum 189From left to right, participants on the panel were Police Officer Ryan Carden of the Pelham Police Department, Susan Brown-Bill Vega, Director of Community Affairs for the Westchester County District Attorney, Police Officer Christopher Neal of the New York City Police Department, Detective Everett Johnson of the Mount Vernon Police Department, Rev. Paul Weather, a retired officer from the Westchester County Police Department, Detective Sergeant Robert Scott of the Mount Vernon Police Department, Detective Task Sergeant Anthony McEachin of the Mount Vernon Police Department, Police Officer Gregory Marable of the MTA Police and Detective Carl Williams of the New York City Police Department.

Several panelists stressed the need to avoid being confrontational and to be especially cautious during a traffic stop.

"A traffic stop is the most serious situation for officers," said Det. Scott of the Mount Vernon Police Department who advised to act accordingly and treat the situation seriously. Several officers noted that even if you did not do anything wrong, there may be a radio call out looking for someone matching the description of you or your vehicle so be calm and respectful.

"Put your windows down, turn your lights on and keep your hands on the steering wheel," said Rev. Weather, formerly of the Westchester County PD.

Detective Everett Johnson said people might be in the wrong place at the wrong time and not even know it.

"You might be in a known problem area," said Johnson who noted that body language is also important.

"Avoid yelling, making hand gestures or putting your hands in your pocket," said Johnson. "If you are asked questions, answer them simply and directly".

NAACPNewRochelle PoliceStopsForum 190Several questions to the panel concerned "probable cause", "reasonable suspicion" and a request to produce ID without "reasonable suspicion" when asked by police.

"If they are asking then they do not have probable cause," said Chris Neal of the NYPD. "If I have 'probable cause' I am not asking I am going to go ahead with the search."

"Reasonable suspicious is based on what I can see and smell, said Rev. Weather. "If I can smell alcohol on your breath I can infer that you have been drinking".

ADA Brown-Bill Vega recommended being familiar with a list of "Do's and Don'ts" provided by organizations like the ACLU.

"Ask 'why?', said Brown-Bill Vega but be respectful.

Brown-Bill Vega pointed out that having any sort of electronic device in your hand is now grounds to pull you over. A change in the law last year made using an electronic device a "primary offense".

"It used to be that if you were pulled over for something else, you could get a second summons for using your cell phone", said said. "Now they can pull you over just for the device." She noted that under the law, officers may infer that if you are holding a device you are using it.

She also noted that there is no law requiring a person to show ID without reasonable cause.

The biggest concerns had to do with racial profiling with many in attendance sharing their experience with racial profiling by police.

Every panelists agreed on the need to file a report in the event of suspected racial profiling.

"The Westchester County Police Department does not play games with officer complaints," said Weather.

"Every complaint gets followed up on," said Detective Sergeant Scott, who works in internal affairs at the Mount Vernon Police Department.

The officers stressed that residents need to make sure to not only file complaints but to follow up and be available during the investigation.


EDITOR'S NOTE: The original article misidentified Tim McKnight's rank as Sergeant and indicated that he had been a co-moderator of the event. This article has been edited to reflect the correct rank and to note that Detective McKnight's role as an ordained minister was to say a prayer before and after the panel discussion took place. He did not participate in the panel discussion not did he identify himself as a New Rochelle police officer or otherwise imply that NRPD was participating in the event or endorsed the event. We regret any confusion this may have caused.

There are 10 Comments

I have to disagree with the quote of there is no law requiring that a person show ID. If a officer pulls you over you have to show a lic. I f your sitting in a bar and a officer wants your ID you must show it. If your walking and a officer comes up to you and asks for ID your telling me i don't have to show it? I think that officer is going to be a little mad.

Robert Cox's picture

While we are all entitled to our opinions, I am going to have go with the ADA from Westchester County.

The examples you cite are not to the point of the question.

If you are in a bar you must be 21. The bar has a license that requires them to only serve people over 21. If you are driving you must have a driver's license. You are not showing ID per se but demonstrating you are of age to be in a bar or licensed to operate a vehicle.

If you are standing on a street corner. minding your own business, and a police officer asks you to provide ID or otherwise identify yourself you are not required to do so. If asked, you can say "no".

That was the point of the question raised at the meeting. If I was not clear on that I hope this helps make it more clear.

Mr.Cox you are wrong about your Bar statement you do not have to be 21 to be in a bar as a matter of fact if you are 16 and with someone who is 18 you can be there. You can be in a Bar at 18 by yourself but you cannot drink. Ever see the signs 18 to party 21 to drink most clubs use them.
I would also say that you must have ID on you at all times please check on these laws.I wish i knew about this meeting before hand to ask these questions.

Robert Cox's picture

I would like amend my previous statement. I meant to write that if you are drinking in a bar you must be 21.

I was attempting to illustrate a point which is that there are circumstances where there are state requirements regarding ID so that in certain circumstances you are required to have ID. There are ID requirements related to operating a vehicle, purchase or consume alcohol or cigarettes, etc.

What the ADA said is that there is no requirement that you must have ID on you at all times. It came up in the context of a question whether a police officer could arrest someone who is simply walking down the street and, when asked, is unable to produce ID.

The officers explained the different between "arrest" and "detain". There was then a discussion about reasonable suspicion. If an officer had reasonable suspicion (that you had broken the law or matched the description of someone the police were looking for) he could stop you, asked for your name and ask to see ID. If the person refused they could be DETAINED but not arrested. The panel agreed that the best response was to comply and, if you felt it was harassment, to get the officers name and badge number and file a report and let Internal Affairs investigate the matter.

What you seem to be describing -- that a person who is walking down the street minding their own business can be arrested by a police officer who does not have reasonable suspicion simply because the person is not carrying ID on them -- is not the case, according to the ADA.

It would seem, however, the onus is on you. You are making an affirmative statement that there is such a law the requires people to carry ID at all times (in New York State). Google for that and provide a link.

If you cannot do that, then we ought to be able to agree that there is no such law.

No law requiring you to carry id, but case law indicating you must respond (if the officer has suspicion).

This gets filed under "how do I respond?" - respectfully and fully to assist the officer.

And if Im being harassed, sue them.

Robert Cox's picture

"The Supreme Court yesterday upheld a state law that makes it a crime to refuse to tell the police one's name when stopped for suspicious behavior, a ruling that strengthens the ability of law enforcement officers to detain citizens even where they lack enough evidence for a full arrest."

The key is "reasonable suspicion". If the police have no reason to be asking then you don't have to answer. However, you are not necessarily going to know if they have reasonable suspicion.

The article goes on to explain "Terry Stops".

The Nevada law "was intended to codify the Supreme Court's 1968 decision in Terry v. Ohio. That case empowered police to briefly detain suspicious subjects -- such as people who seem to be "casing" a bank in preparation for a robbery -- question them and search them for weapons.

The court created "Terry stops" to cover situations in which the police have "reasonable suspicion" of criminal conduct but not enough information for "probable cause," the constitutional standard for making an arrest.

Until yesterday, the court had never clearly said what police may require of a citizen in a Terry stop -- although in a famous concurrence to Terry, Justice Byron R. White had said there is no obligation to respond to police questions."

the Supreme Court upheld state laws requiring citizens to disclose their identity to police when officers have reasonable suspicion to believe criminal activity may be taking place. Commonly known as "stop and identify" statutes, these laws permit police to arrest criminal suspects who refuse to identify themselves.

Currently the following states have stop and identify laws: AL, AR, CO, DE, FL, GA, IL, KS, LA, MO, MT, NE, NH, NM, NV, NY, ND, RI, UT, VT, WI

Regardless of your state's law, keep in mind that police can never compel you to identify yourself without reasonable suspicion to believe you're involved in criminal activity. Rather than asking the officer if he/she has reasonable suspicion, test it yourself by asking if you're free to go.

Robert Cox's picture

I edited the story above to make it more clear that the dialog on this topic was about a police officer asking someone, without reasonable suspicion, to identify themselves.

Whether in a bar, in a car or standing on a corner, it was my understanding from the discussion on Friday that police cannot require that a person produce ID. There must be something else at play.

That said, the panel recognized that an officer would not have much difficulty in justifying a claim that they had reasonable suspicion so it would be better to cooperate and then file a complaint later.

Speaking from experience, I have been approached by police officers in New Rochelle asking me to identify myself while taking pictures or shooting video at some police event. I do not react well to that, at all. So long as I am not interfering with them, they have no right to approach me at all, let alone ask me to identify myself or explain myself.

I generally make it a point to be as uncooperative as possible in those circumstances. I have made a couple of complaints to police officials.

That said, this is the exception not the rule. On almost every occasion, New Rochelle police at a crime scene or accident investigation have been professional and senior officers have been a model of being open and response to the press.

I believe this is a function of two things -- a well-run professional police force and increased awareness of whom I am and what am I doing.

Was'nt it McKnight's son that was arrested and caused days of protests,news conferences and lawsuits for heckling a New Rochelle Police officer?If I am wrong I totally apologize but if im right man are they reaching having that guy tell you what to do.Maybe if he raised his son right this would'nt be necessary.Sorry,but if you cant handle your kid,how can you tell others how to behave.This conference has no credibility,a joke.

The kid in question was the son of his girlfriend. He did not raise the kid and it was the kid who invoked McKnight's name. Whatever happened that night had nothing to do with Tim McKnight.

I am pretty sure the lawsuit was not about the kid heckling a police officer. In any case, the kid lost the lawsuit and the police were upheld in that case.