What to do if stopped by police

What to Do if Stopped by Police


There are many reasons the police may stop you. Whatever the reason, the police need your assistance and cooperation when you’ve been stopped.

  • Police officers may approach you thinking you need assistance or protection. For example, if your vehicle won’t start or if you’re walking alone at night.
  • You may be a witness or a possible witness to a crime or suspicious activity. Officers may be seeking your assistance in obtaining more information regarding crimes and incidents.
  • You may fit the specific physical description of an individual the police are seeking for information or who has committed a crime. University Police will not stop you because you fit a profile.
  • The police may approach, stop and detain anyone suspected of committing a crime or suspected of being about to commit a crime. 

People sometimes feel anxious, confused or even angry when approached by the police. These feelings are natural but there is no need to be alarmed. Remember, these encounters are often stressful for police officers too. They must be extremely cautious given the number of officers who are killed or injured each year. Because of this, police place a great deal of emphasis on officer safety and survival, and unfortunately, some of their safety practices may seem standoffish, impolite or offensive to those who don’t consider such precautions necessary with them.

Consider this: As far as police are concerned, there’s no such thing as a routine traffic stop — every stop has the potential for danger. With that in mind, there are things you can do to minimize your stress and anxiety if you’re stopped.


The most common reason you may be stopped at Binghamton University is because you may have committed a traffic violation while operating a motor vehicle. If you’re stopped by University Police, remember:

  1. When you see the emergency lights or when you hear the siren or air horn, remain calm and safely pull over to the right side of the road. If you’re stopped at night, turn on your vehicle’s interior lights.
  2. Remain inside the vehicle (unless an officer asks you to exit the vehicle).
  3. Keep your hands on the steering wheel where the officer can see them. Don’t make sudden movements, especially toward the floor, rear seat or passenger side of the vehicle.
  4. Wait for the officer to ask for your driver’s license, registration and insurance card. Don’t immediately reach for them. New York state law requires drivers to show these documents to the police upon request.
  5. If these documents are out of reach, tell the officer where they are before you reach for them.
  6. If there are passengers in your vehicle, encourage them to be quiet and cooperative. As the operator, you’re responsible for your vehicle and its occupants. Courts have upheld that the police may order you and your passengers out of your vehicle.
  7. You may be issued a ticket. If you feel the reason is vague or unclear, ask the officer for details.
  8. Don’t become argumentative. Arguing won’t change the police officer’s mind. If you receive a ticket and contest it, you’ll have the opportunity to address the matter in court.
  9. Patrol cars are often staffed with only one officer, so officers may request assistance from other officers when stopping a vehicle. Therefore, it’s normal for two or three police vehicles to be involved in even routine traffic stops.
  10. Some offenses prohibit continued operation of the vehicle by the driver. Therefore, in certain situations, the police may impound and/or tow a vehicle or ask another licensed driver to drive it.
  11. Remember, in all cases, a citizen is required to cooperate with the police. Also, remember that students are required to cooperate with valid directives of the police and other University officials. Failure to do so may result in arrest or judicial charges (see Rules of Student Conduct and Procedures for Review of Student Conduct). Furthermore, New York state law forbids a person from using physical force to resist arrest, even if the arrest is later found to be invalid.

While all situations are unique and require police officers to alter their responses to fit the circumstances, in general, police officers will:

  • provide their name or badge number upon request.
  • inform a person of the reason for being stopped.
  • use only the force necessary to arrest a suspect and maintain custody of a prisoner.
  • only arrest a person for a crime committed in their presence, or when they have probable cause to believe the person has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime.

Police officers who aren’t in uniform will present proper identification; you may request to examine these credentials so you’re satisfied they are law enforcement officers.


Questions, comments, complaints and compliments regarding the New York State University Police may be directed to:

  • The shift supervisor (lieutenant)
  • The assistant chief of police
  • The deputy chief of police

You may also contact the University ombudsman at 607-777-2388. The ombudsman is not part of the University Police and offers strictly confidential assistance to the University community on a broad range of matters.