Cooperation, Communication Key in Traffic Stops

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You've probably seen plenty of video clips recently about what can go wrong when a police officer pulls over a driver.

Confrontations and shootings are obviously the rare exceptions, but awareness of such incidents can clearly put drivers and officers on edge.

So, what are you supposed to do if you see the flashing lights behind you? And what are the officer's responsibilities?

Fear is a common emotion in such a situation.

Whether or not you've made a mistake, how you react can influence what an officer does.

Sandra Bland died in a Texas jail after a confrontation with a police officer. She was pulled over for a simple traffic violation, but the situation quickly escalated to a forcible arrest.

"We don't have the luxury of knowing who is in the car and what is in the car. For example, weapons. Anything like that. We have to treat every traffic stop as a potential dangerous situation," said Lt. Richard Schaaf, Mandan Police Department.

Schaaf says you have the right to not answer, but it's important to hand over identification.

He says the best thing you can do to protect yourself and the officer when you see those flashing lights behind you is to remain calm.

Officers record their interactions with the public with a dashboard camera and a microphone. And a Bismarck criminal defense attorney says drivers can, too.

"Just make sure to be respectful and courteous. It's a difficult job and law enforcement doesn't always run into cooperative people," said Justin Vinje, Vinje Law Firm.

Drivers can also deny consent for a vehicle search and ask for an attorney, unless the officer finds probable cause, such as suspicious behavior or seeing evidence of drugs or weapons.

"Sometimes people give police officers a lot of trouble. Well, they'll find the search of their vehicle takes a lot longer. Maybe things get a bit messy as opposed to someone who extremely polite and deferential to law enforcement," Vinje said.

Schaaf says he understands that getting pulled over can be terrifying experience, but if both sides can communicate effectively, the driver will most likely get away with a warning.

Police also caution you not to make any sudden movements like reaching under your seat before the officer gets to your car.

It's also important to stay in the car before the officer steps up.