Howell Police use casual conversation to educate, help keep you calm at traffic stops
Communication and transparency go together like peanut butter and jelly.
When you know someone's intentions, message then you can better know how to converse and react.
Police officers patrolling streets and highways as well as communities at large are out there to keep the peace and ensure safety for you and everyone around you.
And just like you learn in the classroom or by your parents about what's right and wrong, what to do and not to do and how, when and where to correct your mistakes, police officers adopt a similar philosophy on the roads to keep you and everyone around you, safe and secure.
I had the opportunity to go on a ride-along with Howell Police Officer Kevin Kubiel and speak with Howell Police Captain Tom Rizzo, so you can see and hear how traffic stops are conducted.
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Visibility, Presence And Being Proactive:
Police officers have eyes and ears on the road with a sharp attention to detail of what's going on and where.
If there's an issue that needs to be addressed and corrected, the officer will speak to the driver or individual involved and take additional action if and when needed.
"In Howell, we're highly visible for our community, it says it right on our vehicle 'committed to community' so we like to be highly visible and at any given time during the day, you could see a marked unit on any one of the state highways, the local roads, the county highways," Captain Rizzo said. "We always maintain a high sense of visibility, we believe there's some type of tangible benefit to that whether it's just a diversionary effect for criminal elements but also for the safety of the community so they feel that when they see us, that they feel a certain sense of security."
Quick Reaction And Multi-Tasking:
In less than a second and without hesitation, an officer could get a call coming in over the radio to head to a certain destination for any number of scenarios so they have to be able to drive to that given location for the reasons given and be able to mentally, emotionally and physically prepare for what may and what will lied ahead once on a given scene.
Multi-tasking and quick reaction by police is key for them and letting them through on the roads, whether that's pulling over to let an officer pass or just not running a light or causing any danger is key for you.
"They're driving a vehicle with emergency lights and sirens, (and) people unfortunately do not yield the right of way as they should all the time," Captain Rizzo said. "There are several different things they're handling all at one time so multi-tasking is key. The average patrol officer, and I use that term cautiously, has to do a lot in the time frame that somebody would even have a hard time doing one task, so they're tasked with a lot and that's what we hope people realize to yield the right of way in a safe manner and let us get to where we're going."
Getting Pulled Over:
You could get pulled over driving your car for any number of reasons or motor vehicle violations, many of them small in nature, but you'll always get an explanation as to why you were stopped and what you have to do to address the issue.
Nobody hits the open road hoping or looking to be pulled over and are usually disappointed or upset that they have been for whatever reason is then given by the officer.
It's natural to feel that way but respect and courtesy given by officer and driver go a long way in making it a peaceful and educational motor vehicle stop.
"You want to get respect but you want to give respect at the same time so being compliant in the fact that even if you disagree for the reason you were pulled over or any issuance of a summons, whatever the case may be, we don't like to engage in any type of what we call 'roadside courthouse', that's just not the appropriate time, it's not safe and it's just not prudent," Captain Rizzo said. "We're not saying that we can't explain an infraction, an equipment violation or whatever the circumstance but we just don't feel that for a lot of different reasons, safety being paramount of both the officer and the occupants of the vehicle that the roadside is the best place to do that."
Police always hope for a courteous and respectful back and forth dialogue at a motor vehicle stop.
"We identify ourselves, provide the reasons why the person is being pulled over and then we go from there," Captain Rizzo said. "People aren't happy to be pulled over, we understand that, we take the human side of that as a big part of what we do."
Drugged Driving, Getting Asked Out Of The Car:
In most cases when you're pulled over, it'll be a simple conversation out of the window but in some instances, when warranted, you may be asked to step out of the vehicle, which is a legal and reasonable request.
"In the state of New Jersey, asking a driver of a motor vehicle out of the vehicle for any reason is perfectly constitutional and justifiable for a police officer to do and there's ways to do it, we very rarely, unless it's a heightened situation, are sitting there doing that under real tense circumstances," Captain Rizzo said. "Normally, it's a courteous interaction, 'excuse me, would you mind stepping out of the vehicle to so I can speak with you back here?', and that's a constitutional justification that we have to do that."
As for any drug related on-scene investigations, some of what used to be allowed with regards to marijuana is no longer allowed for police.
"Relying solely upon the odor of marijuana now, as far as a prerequisite to search a vehicle, is no longer justified, but there's other states, we're not the first to be dealing with this," Captain Rizzo said.
There are ways they can still investigate the scene if and when warranted.
"We have a lot of resources available to us, we're very fortunate here in Howell Township that we do have narcotic K-9's that we are able to use as well to establish the prerequisite probable cause to search, we have a criminal suppression team and a lot of elements still working on our behalf to make sure that we maintain the standard of living that we've established here in Howell Township," Captain Rizzo said. "We're known for that, we've gained some type of notoriety for that, we're very proud of that and we want our residents to feel that we don't tolerate that type of behavior here."
Police, Driver Interaction:
For whatever reason you're pulled over, there are certain behaviors to adhere to and some to avoid to ensure things so smoothly all the way around, starting with communication and respect on both sides.
And it's natural to feel nervous or panic in a seemingly tension filled moment because you may feel you're in trouble and police understand that and want to help keep things calm.
"Polite and courteous is always the way to go, both on our behalf and on behalf of the occupant of a motor vehicle but we'll direct them and a lot of people nowadays are getting a lot more educated and better education means better interactions, so they'll ask us, 'hey, do you mind if I reach for my glove box, I'll get my drivers license and insurance', and that's great, when people give us that type of courtesy, we'll give it right back," Captain Rizzo said.
Maybe it's a verbal warning, written warning or a ticket in most cases after being pulled over, but when it's over and you can take a breath, you'll feel better if both sides provided equal amounts of respect and courtesy.
One driver who was pulled over on the ride-along I was on, and let off with a verbal warning by Officer Kubiel, certainly felt better about the way things went with both those things plus a casual conversation to ease any tension.
"He was very professional and handled it very well. He just explained to me that the registration was expired on the car, and it's not my car, so I didn't know but I think that it was very respectful and professional and I appreciate him."
She was nervous for being pulled over but the course of the conversation and how it went made it easier on her.
"I'm always nervous just because I don't want to burden them in anyway and I don't want my day to be burdened either, but he was very nice and very professional so I appreciate it a lot."
In certain occasions, once the reason for the stop has been explained and everything checked out, those everyday casual conversations can take place.
"A lot of the times, because we have such close ties to our community, we'll engage in conversation that is somewhat opposite and outside of motor vehicle enforcement," Captain Rizzo said. "We have a very low percentage of our stops that actually result in the issuance of a citation or a formal summons even a formal written warning, the majority of our stops actually result in a verbal warning and the fact that we did our job by pulling the person over. What we're primarily focused on here is obviously the safe travel and traversing of our roadways but also the apprehension of the criminal element, we don't want that here, we don't tolerate that here, we feel that our residents deserve better."
One of the sights on the ride-along that helps tie it all home, is a couple small children were walking by one of the traffic stops we were backing up at and the two kids just smiled and waved at Officer Kubiel and he smiled and waved right back.
No words were said, none were needed, it's that shared moment of happiness between police and the community.
Special thanks to Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick for this opportunity.