Minden Police Officer First Class Jeremy Sitter, standing, and Officer Josh Lavrinc, inside the vehicle, demonstrate what a driver should do when pulled over by police. Police Chief Steve Cropper says it is important that drivers do not get out of the vehicle, keep hands visible and await instructions from the officer. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald Illustration

Officer-involved shootings during traffic stops have some people asking what to do when an officer walks up to their window.

Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper explained there are two different types of traffic stops. Officers are trained on what to do during a traffic stop and a felony traffic stop.

He says if an officer pulls over a driver on traffic stop, the best thing to do is to pull over safely and keep his or her hands visible.

“The best advice I can give is to sit there with your hands visible,” he said. “The ideal place would be on top of the steering wheel, and then wait for the officer to instruct you on what he wants you to do.”

He emphasized that drivers should not get out of their vehicle. The officer will come to the window, introduce himself and ask for driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance.

“We have a lot of individuals that will pull over and immediately jump out of the car,” he said. “That’s the last thing they want to do. They need to stay in their vehicle and wait for the officer to approach them. A lot of people in Minden do that, and they do it because they assume they know the officer. I’ve got an officer working that’s from Pennsylvania. Not every officer knows everybody in town.”

Cropper says if a driver is carrying a weapon in the vehicle, the driver should inform the officer that he or she has a gun and tell the officer its location. It is best to let the officer decide whether he wants the driver to show them where the weapon is or ask the driver to exit the vehicle and allow the officer to retrieve it.

“Your vehicle is considered an extension of your home,” he said.

“Everybody has a right to place a weapon in their vehicle if they choose to do so. If you do not have a conceal permit, and you have a gun in your car, which is perfectly legal, you always want to tell the officer you have a gun in your vehicle.”

He says if a person has a conceal/carry permit, do not put your permit and your driver’s license in the same pocket. If you have a weapon concealed, tell the officer where it is concealed.

“Every traffic stop is different, and people think there is supposed to be a written standard on how officers handle a traffic stop,” he said. “Let that officer tell you what you need to do with that weapon. Every officer is going to be different on whether they feel threatened by it or not.”

A person’s behavior is usually the indicator on how a traffic stop is handled, Cropper said. For instance, if a driver is pulled over, he or she rolls down their window, their hands are visible, and their attitude is non-threatening, then the officer will usually just take care of business.

If it is a felony stop, the officer will instruct the person to turn off the vehicle, throw the keys out of the vehicle with their left hand and then open the door using the outside handle.

“Officers are trained in the academy that when you’re stopping a vehicle that you know a felony was committed and the people in that vehicle have committed that felony, the officer will not go to the window,” he said. “He will stand back and order you out of the vehicle.”

In the case of deadly force, Cropper says if they receive a call or make a traffic stop where they know a weapon is involved, officers will at least have their hand on their service weapon.

“If a gun is pulled on an officer, or pulled on a citizen, or a knife, if someone’s life is in danger, that’s when an officer is justified to use deadly force,” he said.

He reiterated that attitude is everything in the case of a traffic stop.

“There are two words that come to mind on a traffic stop – compliance and respect,” Cropper said. “If you keep those two words in your head when you get pulled over by a police officer, nothing will go wrong. You might get a ticket, but nothing will go wrong. If you do exactly what that officer tells you to do and show him respect, and hopefully he shows you respect, there would never be an issue.”