What to Do if You Are Stopped by Police

The goal of the Washington University in St. Louis Police Department is to provide services equitably to our entire community. When community members are aware of some of the general procedures that police officers are following in a situation, communication and understanding can be easier and more successful for all involved. 

To help you reduce or eliminate conflict when you come into contact with a police officer, WUPD provides the following information. We caution you, however, not to rely on this information as a legal advisor.

Please note that the Washington University campus is private property and certain rules and regulations apply to you on campus that may not apply in other situations. Be certain to consult the compliance & policies that apply to students for more specific information.


If You Are Stopped by the Police in Your Car

If you are driving a vehicle, police officers can ask you to pull over at any time, based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion. The best thing to do in this situation is to pull over and sit tight. Generally, you should not get out of the car unless asked to do so.

If you are stopped at night, turn on your dome light to show that nothing is wrong. It is best to do nothing that would give police a reason to be suspicious of you. Having your light on and your hands on the steering wheel usually will put an officer’s mind at ease.

You probably will be asked to produce your driver’s license and proof of insurance for the vehicle. You must do this if asked. If your identification and insurance card are stored in an unusual place, tell the officer where they are before you reach for them.

A police officer may issue a citation for a violation. Of course, you may start to explain at this point, but that is as far as you should take it. Be careful about how you protest. Police officers have a great deal of discretion in enforcing the law. The courtroom is the proper place to dispute a ticket, and a judge will decide whether you are guilty.


If You Are Stopped by the Police on the Street

Most of the problems that you may have with the police can be avoided at the time an officer first stops and questions you. Remember, officers believe they have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop you and ask you some questions. Recent court rulings have recognized police officers’ right to approach citizens and ask them questions; however, only when officers have probable cause or reasonable suspicion may they detain you.

If the officers don’t tell you why you were stopped, you may inquire.

While officers take a number of factors into consideration before determining whether to stop you or ask more questions, they still must respect your rights not to answer any question that sounds as if you are being accused of something. You are, however, required by law to identify yourself.

Remember: Do not argue with the officer over the reason for the stop.

If you believe you were unjustly detained, please contact us.

For more information, please download our What to Do if Stopped by Police brochure.