SIDNEY — You’re driving home from a long day and work and you notice the flashing red and blue lights of a law enforcement vehicle behind you. What should you do?
That’s the topic for Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart’s column this week. The dangers to law enforcement during a traffic stop is real and tragedies have occurred to both officers and citizens.
“Law enforcement and citizens understand this is a scary time,” said Lenhart of the traffic stop. “We’ve had law enforcement officials hurt in the line of duty during stops.
“Most citizens have never been stopped but when they see the lights in their mirrors, it turns into a scary, frightening time for them.”
Lenhart has some simple guidelines for citizens if they are pulled over during a traffic stop.
“You should pull over as quickly as you can,” said Lenhart. “Pick a safe spot, slow down and pull over.
“The person might think they know why they were pulled over — it might be a headlight is out or you were speeding. You should remain in your vehicle,” said Lenhart. “Don’t get out of your vehicle and approach the officer. If you get out of the vehicle, the officer will perceive that as a threat.”
So, said Lenhart, stay in your vehicle and put both hands on the steering wheel.
“Do not reach under your seat or into the glove box,” said Lenhart. “Wait until the officer asks for your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance before moving your hands.
“We have 7,000 residents who have conceal carry licenses in Shelby County,” he said. “You should tell the officer if you have one.”
After the officer has approached the vehicle, said Lenhart, he or she should give the driver a reason why they were stopped.
“If they don’t tell you a reason, ask them,” said Lenhart. “You might have been speeding, ran a traffic light or have a taillight out. Voice your concern about why he stopped you before he goes back to his vehicle.”
Lenhart said if the officer asks you to get out of your vehicle, there are also steps the driver should follow.
“Stay three to five feet away from the officer,” said Lenhart. “Don’t try to be funny and make comic remarks. Don’t be argumentative.
“The vast majority of officers will have some sort of camcorder either in their vehicle or on themselves and that driver will be recorded,” he said. “If you think you’re going to be arrested, don’t argue with the officer. The place for that (arguments) is in court.”
Lenhart said he’s often asked if each officer has a “quota” of traffic tickets he or she must give out.
“The answer is no,” said Lenhart. “They do have a daily log sheet of traffic stops so we know how many people and why they are stopped.”
He said people have also raised concerns that they were dissatisfied with the way the officer treated them during a traffic stop.
“You have recourse,” said Lenhart. “You can talk with the officer’s supervisor, the chief, mayor or sheriff. Keep going until you get satisfaction about the situation.
“If you feel you were mistreated, get an attorney,” said Lenhart. “If you’re arrested, then you’re going to need an attorney 99 percent of the time.”
Lenhart said when an officer writes a citation, the driver is asked to sign it to signify that they have received it.
“Some people won’t sign it,” said Lenhart. Ohio law, he said, says if a person doesn’t sign the citation, they can be arrested.
“A traffic stop is frightening for all parties involved,” said Lenhart. “You need to take things slow and know that this is a serious business for all sides involved whether you get a citation or receive a warning.”
The writer conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.