I’m always on the lookout for a good Ask MC question. I’ve been getting some good ones via email lately and I’ll get to them as time permits. This question was posted in response to my post on speed estimation. EliMae asks:
I have a question. Why do cops ask if we know how fast we were going ? I suggest cutting it. It makes it sound like maybe you’re not sure, and we have a chance to make the situation look better. Just once, I would like to be stopped for speeding and have the cop open with, How are you ma’am? I clocked you at 10 over the speed limit back there. May I see your license and registration, please? If you ask me a question, I’m going to assume you don’t know the answer to it (yes, even though my daddy has told me I should never assume).
There are a couple of schools of thought on this one, EliMae. As per usual, all I can do is tell you why I use it. I’m looking for honesty. I already know how fast you were going. I visually estimated your speed, then used my lidar to confirm my estimation. I open every stop with, “Do you know why I stopped you?”
I’m looking for personal responsibility. If you’re honest, take responsibility and have a good attitude, you have a much greater chance of getting a warning.
The second reason I ask these questions is simply to get a statement. I write my notes contemporaneously with the stop. I will also refer to my digital recorder to confirm I get statements accurately documented. That way, when the person goes to court, I can testify with confidence that what I am saying the violator said is actually what they said. I’ve had defendant’s say something to the effect of “I never said that” when in fact they did. I’ve never had a defendant testify that they immediately made notes to help their recollection when the trial comes around.
With regard to your request for something a little more seemingly polite like, “How are you ma’am?”, I can tell you there are more folks out there that would find that condescending than I am prepared to deal with. Honestly, I’ve tried dozens of different approaches to a traffic stop. I will never find one that pleases everybody. Consequently, I get complaints from time to time in which people say I’m too curt or not polite or too polite or mean or condescending. People are different and they all act in completely separate ways when contacted during a traffic stop.
I use the same line on every stop for two reasons:
1. It’s easier to testify about later. My testimony for 99% of my stops is literally less than a minute long. I am no longer nervous in court because I’ve testified hundreds of times to the same kinds of violations. I don’t have to remember what was different about what I said to the defendant because I’ve said that same thing thousands of times.
2. It makes the more difficult “customers” stand out more. Most people I stop say very little. The ones that pitch the biggest fit, however, are a breeze to remember. The notes I make on my copy of the cite are very brief for the run-of-the-mill stop; however, the anomalies garner a bit more attention, a bit more documentation, and a bit more space in my memory banks.
There is one last reason I open with a simple “Do you know why I stopped you?”. Sometimes, a driver will admit to a completely different violation. If I stop someone for speeding, but they also weren’t wearing a seat belt, but they admit to the seat belt? If their attitude is appropriate, they may just win the “here’s a non-moving violation instead of a moving violation” award. You may be surprised how many people drive away happy with a seat belt ticket instead of a speeding ticket.
Thanks for the question, EliMae! I hope that cleared up some of the mystery us LEOs love to hide in. And for the rest of you, feel free to drop me a line, leave a question on the fan page, or even in a comment!