Know how to behave in a traffic stop and stay safe, NJ says
Coming soon to a television or movie screen near you: Ads being run by the state of New Jersey encouraging safe traffic stops by giving the public tips on how to behave if pulled over.
The SAFE STOP campaign announced Wednesday by Attorney General Christopher Porrino at Friendship Baptist Church is intended to build mutual trust between police officers and the public, amid an ongoing national debate about social justice and the police’s use of force.
Porrino said other recent steps to improve relations have been aimed at the police themselves – body cameras, community policing, annual training on issues such as implicit bias. This $1 million ad campaign, paid for with criminal forfeiture funds, aims to educate the public.
“Every single police encounter involves police and involves civilians,” Porrino said. “And so not sharing information with our civilian communities about their rights and obligation, for lack of a better term the dos and the don’ts around police stops, to me frankly is bordering on irresponsible but certainly is a missed opportunity.”
The SAFE STOP videos will air on television, in movie theaters, in social media and other venues. The campaign is being funded through $1 million in forfeiture funds.
The videos feature police, pastors and professional athletes such as retired NFL star Jessie Armstead, who played for the Giants, and Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who was born and spent his childhood in Newark.
“Respect each other and it will be a perfect place,” Armstead said. “Respect the work that the police officer have to do, and the police officer respect the citizen when you pull him over. I think things will work out so much, so much better. Just respect each other.”
Porrino said a traffic stop can quickly turn violent, when tensions are high and there's a misunderstanding. The ads recommend how drivers should act if stopped by police – keep their hands on the steering wheel, roll down all the car’s windows, turn the radio off and, if it’s nighttime, turn on the overhead dome light.
“It seems obvious maybe to us, but don’t get out of the car unless you’re told to,” Porrino said. “But if a police officer asks you to get out of the car, the law requires that you get out, whether you agree with why you were pulled over or not.”
The videos also advise people they have the right to file a complaint about police behavior, if they feel it’s warranted.
Porrino also issued a new directive to law enforcement Wednesday about such complaints. All police departments are now required to provide an accounting of the result of their investigation to the citizen who complained.
“Law enforcement and the communities want to know. Bad cops give everybody in law enforcement a bad name. It affects the reputation of everybody,” Porrino said.
Citizens who pursue a complaint but believe they’re not receiving cooperation or answers can now also call a new hotline in the Attorney General’s Office: 833-4-SAFE-NJ, or 833-472-3365.
“We don’t want to breed mistrust. We want to promote trust. If there are police officers out there that shouldn’t be on the road, we need to know about it so that we can take action,” Porrino said.
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