Why did the Officer do that?
Several times a day our officers initiate traffic stops on citizens. Most frequently the citizen was stopped for a minor traffic violation. Citizens often think such a stop may be routine for the officer. The fact is, however, that any traffic stop can be hazardous to an officer. That officer does not know you are a law-abiding citizen. Often times the person stopped for a simple traffic violation has committed an offense the officer knows nothing about, or the person is wanted, has just left the scene of a crime, or has something to hide from the police. The officer approaching your car does not know the answers to any of these questions until he or she can make inquiries.
For the person stopped, however, it is anything but routine. Many we talk with become anxious and frightened even after the initial stop. It often becomes apparent that people are unsure as to what the officer expected of them. Some of the officer's actions are peculiar and they do not understand what is occurring.
A person being pulled over by the police should first understand that the officer is participating in what he or she regards as potentially a life-threatening action. In the annual listings of circumstances leading to the death of on-duty police officers in this country, traffic stops are always in the top three (along with felonies in progress and domestic disputes). We train officers to be especially careful and cautious during car stops.
Many comment on how the officer appeared threatening to them. Officers approach slowly and deliberately and look closely in the interior of the car, including the back seat. When someone opens the glove box to retrieve a vehicle registration, the officer cranes his neck to the point where he almost has his head inside the car window. To the citizen this is overkill, but to the officer it is paramount that he can see the citizen's hands and be alert to any threat.
All of these actions are intentional; officers train intensively to do these things under the banner of ‘officer safety.’ An officer is taught to approach a car cautiously and deliberately, and to look for ‘furtive movement’ by the suspected violator. The driver could be trying to hide something under the front seat (gun?, drugs?, can of beer?). Inspecting the passenger compartment and carefully watching the removal of something from the glove box is done for the purpose of personal safety and detecting the presence of possible contraband.
So what does the honest citizen do to minimize the officer's concerns? First, please try to understand why the officer is talking these precautions. There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop, as a way of emphasizing that police officers must be ever vigilant. When you sense this caution or tension in the officer, please understand that he or she does not usually know who or what to expect. Once the officer learns your identity, confirms the vehicle registration, and sees no evidence of criminal behavior on your part, you will probably see the officer noticeably relax his or her approach.
You should also avoid getting out of the car immediately after being stopped and approaching the officer while he or she is still in the vehicle. Officers are cautioned about being ‘trapped’ in their own vehicle. This behavior raises suspicion in the officer's mind that the traffic violator may have something, or somebody, in the car that the citizen does not want the officer to see. Remain in the car and let the officer approach you; keep your hands plainly visible; and avoid those ‘furtive movements.’
When a police officer makes initial contact, permit him or her to speak and act first. The officer will ask for your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. These are lawful requirements of you, but more importantly, it helps the officer determine that you are not a car thief and you are not driving with a suspended license.
Once these essential preliminaries are taken care of, it is appropriate for you and the officer to discuss why you were stopped. It may be a traffic violation or it may be that your car matches the description of one the police are looking for regarding an incident that has occurred. If this is the case, please understand that we are often dealing with only partial descriptions, that those who commit crimes do switch tags on cars, and they often lie to officers.
The suspected traffic violator will sometimes disagree with the officer's observation. Police officers are similar to baseball umpires in that they will listen to the other side of a dispute. Convincing arguments are usually characterized by facts and logic, not emotion, threat, or volume. In fact, threats and aggressive emotions can present a host of other issues that must be addressed.
Traffic citations are not pronouncements of guilt. Police officers, being human, make errors and so do citizens. Courts of law have been created to impartially hear complaints of disputed tickets, that court is the proper place to argue your case, not the scene of the incident. Police officers readily accept the fact that their judgments are subject to question and review by competent authority. However, when they are on the side of the road, their first focus will always be for officer safety.
Thank you for helping us do our job. If you feel you have been the subject of unlawful profiling or harassment, please contact a supervisor to register a complaint.
Q: What do I do if get a ticket?
A: All uniform traffic citations are issued with instructions on the back of your copy of the citation, as well as an envelope which contains more information on how to take care of the citation. Payments can be mailed in the envelope provided, or they can be made in person at the office of the clerk of the court at 1800 66th Street North, St. Petersburg. If your citation indicates that a court appearance is required, failure to appear may result in suspension of your license and/or an arrest warrant being issued by the court.
Q: I was riding a bicycle; can I still get a citation?
A: Yes. Bicycles are defined as vehicles and must adhere to the same laws as other vehicles, including stopping at stop signs, signalling turns, and having lights on after dark. In addition, riders under the age of 16 are required to wear safety helmets.
Q: The officer stopped me outside the city limits of Gulfport, is this legal?
A: Yes. As long as the violation occurred in Gulfport, and as long as the officer was in fresh pursuit, the stop can occur anywhere. On-duty officers conducting business outside the city may also stop violators for reckless driving and suspicion of DUI.
Q: What about my RADAR detector?
A: RADAR and LIDAR detectors are legal for use in Florida, but RADAR jammers are regulated by the FCC and are not legal anywhere in the U.S. In order for a detector to alert to the presence of a LIDAR beam, the beam must actually strike the detector. Since the beam is very narrow, it is very likely that an officer can "clock" your speed without any alert from your detector.
Q: What do I do if I believe the officer is wrong?
A: If you are cited, you have the option of pleading not guilty and requesting a trial. The officer will appear and present evidence on behalf of the state, including testimony about what he or she saw. The speed measuring devices do NOT store numbers, and officers cannot show you the readout of your speed.
Q: I was involved in a traffic crash; where can I get a copy of the report?
A: Contact the police records section at 893-1041. It usually takes about three to five days for the report to be ready; however, Florida law allows officers up to ten days to complete crash reports. Please note, only those parties involved in the crash or their attorneys or insurance agents may obtain copies of the reports for up to 60 days.
Q: When is it appropriate to call 911?
A: 911 should be used to report medical emergencies, fires, and in-progress or just-occurred criminal activity. It is not appropriate to call 911 to simply ask for information or to ask for police assistance involving something of a late-reported nature. Improper use of the 911 system could prevent others from using it to report a legitimate emergency.
Q: Why does it take longer for police to respond to certain calls?
A: All requests for police services are prioritized based on the seriousness of the incident and potential for injury or damage to property. Occasionally, less serious calls must be delayed so that we can respond immediately to emergencies.
Q: Why am I asked so many questions when I call the police?
A: Dispatchers are trained to gather as much information as possible about an incident. They do this so that the responding officers will have the information necessary in order to plan and organize an effective response. The safety of all persons involved is increased, as well as the chance of apprehending any perpetrators.
Q: How can I check on the status of my case?
A: Criminal offenses which meet certain solvability factors are assigned to a detective for investigation. Those that are not assigned are suspended until additional leads are developed. In either of these circumstances, we send a letter informing the victim of the case status. At any time, you may contact the detective assigned to your case, or you may call Detective Sergeant Robert Burkhart at 893-1051.
Q: Why does it take so long for the follow-up investigation to be completed?
A: Our detectives work to prepare cases that will carry the required burden of proof for a conviction in a criminal case. This means that they will gather a great deal of evidence, which often must be analyzed in a laboratory. Unlike depictions in popular television shows and movies, lab analyses can take weeks or even months to complete. In addition, they often must locate and interview witnesses or suspects who have moved or changed employment. Our investigations are thorough, and a thorough investigation takes time.
Q: Can the police department assist me in performing a background check on people?
A: We can provide you with any public records we may have in our custody, such as police reports or dispatch logs. We cannot, however, run criminal history or driver license checks for any purpose other than an official police investigation. Doing so would violate a confidentiality agreement we have with the State of Florida, and it could result in termination of that agreement.
Q: How do I commend or express gratitude for the services of police employees?
A: Our employees are compensated fairly, and they have entered into this line of work because they genuinely want to serve the public. Tips or gratuities are simply not necessary, and in many cases they are illegal and can result in a lot of trouble both for the giver and the reciever. A simple "thank you" goes a long way, but letters to the Chief or to elected officials commenting on your positive experiences with our employees are also an excellent way to show your appreciation.
Q: How do I make a complaint against a police department employee?
A: Any supervisor in the police department can take a complaint at any time. He or she may take steps to handle the problem immediately, or you may be referred to the affected employee's supervisor. If the situation cannot be resolved at this level, you may be asked to document your complaint on a form designed for that purpose. In such a case, the Chief of Police will assign a supervisor to investigate the complaint. Florida law prohibits any documents associated with an internal police investigation from being made public while the case is still open.
Q: What do I do if I want to become a police officer?
Q: Can the police open my car if I have locked my keys inside?
A: We can assist you by calling a locksmith to perform this service, but our officers are not permitted to break into cars except in emergencies (i.e--a child trapped inside).
Q: If somebody has parked a vehicle on my property without my permission; can the police have it towed?
A: The police can only tow vehicles that are unlawfully parked on public property. You can contact a local wrecker service who may tow the vehicle from your property with costs being billed to the owner of the vehicle.
Q: What are the current water use restrictions for lawn-sprinkling, car-washing, etc?
A: The City of Gulfport has adopted the regulations imposed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). Those restrictions are listed on this website .
If you have any other questions, call the police communications center at 893-1030.
Q: How can I get a Gulfport Police Patch to add to my collection?
A: The Department of Homeland Security has advised that members of terrorist organizations may pose as police officers or other public safety professionals in order to more easily gain access to restricted areas. For this reason, we do not give out patches to the general public. If you are a member of another law enforcement agency, we will gladly send you a patch in response to a written request sent on the agency's letterhead.