Ask MC

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.

Win/win.

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!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

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10 thoughts on “Ask MC

  1. So interesting! I love hearing your perspective on things. The couple times I have been pulled over I usually don’t say much and just do whatever the guy asks me to do. One time I went for my phone and saw him put his hand on his gun. Then I realized I should have told him what I was doing. Woops.

  2. I do the same thing MC, except I just flat tell them why I stopped them, “Good morning/afternoon, I stopped you today because you were driving XX in an XXmph zone back there.” No muss, no fuss. I used to ask them if they knew their speed or the speed limit, but I found that nearly everybody didn’t know, or stated a speed that would have been ridiculous for me to stop them for (40 in a 40, or something just a mile or 2 over.) I found it easier in court that I didn’t ask the driver questions, because then I had to remember them. Just like you, most of my violators are pretty quiet, and the ones that are not, stick out in my memory like a neon billboard.

    Stay safe and keep the rubber side down.

  3. Thanks for the insight. I will keep in mind that the next time I am stopped, the officer already knows what I was doing and it’s no use trying to dress it up. I will point out that my last traffic stop was almost 6 years ago (that’s a long time for someone my age).

    I understand what you’re saying about calling ladies, “ma’am.” It’s the same thing I encounter when upset that a gentleman did not open a door for me. It will never stop until silly women stop taking offense at what are meant to be gestures of respect. I’m perfectly aware that I can open my own door, but until men start bearing children, I consider these niceties a fair trade.

  4. EliMae – I admit to be curious – (roughly) what age are you (I’m interested in your comment that 6 years since the last stop is a long timefor someone of your age)

    Men opening doors – personally I take the view that if someone does somethng intending to be polite, it’s courteous to respond politely, so if someone (of either gender) opens a door for me, I will thank them.

    I don’t *need* or expect doors to be held open for me just because I’m woman, but unless there is good reason not to, I will assume that the man opening a door for me is doing so becuase he is trying to be polite, ot because he intends to be sexist.

    • I will decline to give a straight answer, but I will say I’ve only have my license for 7 years. I think my math was off and it’s only been 5 years. It’s still on my record, and they go back five years, right? It’s almost time for it to go away. I got my license later than the usual 16 years of age, though, so that doesn’t give much indication of my age. All of my tickets were from my first two years driving, and they were all for speeding. After walking everywhere with a toddler for a few years, I was a little overexcited to finally have my license.

      I did get a parking ticket in the last year, because I thought since everyone parked in the lined spaces at the local Y, they had stopped monitoring it for lack of space. Apparently, they do come by once in a while toward the end of the month. Not that they have quotas. They just tend to be particularly vigilant toward the end of the month around here.

  5. Has anybody ever answered with “Because I deserved it”? And would you have to bite your lip to keep from smiling?

  6. MC – “Do you know why I stopped you?”

    Me- What, did you forget walking up here?

    Actually got me out of a ticket once…I could care less what you say to me as long as it is respectful. I have a great record for warnings vs tickets.

  7. I have a question about how you feel about speed limits in general terms. Do you think that some limits be higher or lower pertaining to Your experince and knowledge? I admit that I like higher limits and more leeway on roads and highways for speed and travel. Why,if you ask,it this: I drove 8 years on one, the best highway system ever devised by people: DAS AUTOBAHN WIE AUS SCHEIEL! True,it’s getting a bit smaller,but hit 425+km/h@755m/per second,you know cars can fly. I wish someday when American drivers will learn to drive so this can happen right here. So,just would like a view about this angle from you if possible. Oh,if speeds do inch up,Officer MC,you might get a BMW 2000″Super Sport” mit Tri-K dual-spool turbos,425km/h@755m/per second Law Bike. Tickets? German Police can collect small fines on the spot for infractions and speeding. They can gun down any one who won’t stop during a chase WITH tanks,choppers,planes,APC’s,MG’s,missles.and what ever is left over. Das FedralStassterPolizei can and will use these toys. Their”re dammn good at it. USA ain’t so bad.

  8. I just got my first speeding ticket since 1997. The officer approached the car, and I put the license and insurance out the window. He took them from me and walked back to his car without a word said. When he returned he said, I see you havenot had a ticket since 1997, but I wrote you one anyway. I asked him what was the offense to clarify. He said I got you going 60 in a 45. I responded yes sir, I was guilty of that. He then said well maybe the judge will let you get traffic school, have a good day.