Local law enforcement officials share tips, personal experiences
By Matt Mackinder
Clarkston News Editor
OAKLAND COUNTY — It’s a common occurrence that happens daily – a police car gets behind you, puts on the lights, and pulls you over.
And you pull over and go through the process of talking to the officer, determining what has happened.
According to local officers, there are some things motorists should know when this situation arises.
“If you see police lights behind you, pull over where it is safe,” said Sgt. Rami Abi-Adal, of the Independence Township Substation. “If you are trying to get to a parking lot for a safer place to stop, slow down and put your hazard lights on. If it is safe to stop on the side of the road where you are, please do so.
“Officers know it can be embarrassing or even stressful to be pulled over. A traffic stop can also be stressful for an officer as well. If you are pulled over, try to take a deep breath, and remain calm. The officer is likely to respond in the same manner.”
Oxford Village Police Chief Micheal Solwold offered steps after the face-to-face interaction has started.
“When the officer approaches, he or she will request a driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance,” explained Solwold. “Before reaching for those items, inform the officer where you’re reaching. If you have a CPL (concealed pistol license) and have a weapon, then advise the officer. Do not reach for any weapon. Keep it where it is.
“Do not argue with the officer. Be courteous. If you disagree with the citation, then take it to court and argue it there. The officer should tell the driver right away why they stopped you. There should be no reason for a traffic stop to escalate into more than it needs to. Once the officer has informed the driver of the reason, then the driver shall produce the necessary credentials. Again, if you do not agree with the officer, then argue it in court.”
Solwold has been in law enforcement since 1993 when he started working with the Oxford Police Department as a reserve officer. In 2003, he was promoted to sergeant and then in 2017, he took over as police chief.
Ab-Adal advised what a driver should not do when pulled over by a police officer.
“The wrong things to do are to start the encounter by yelling and screaming at the officer, or looking for your things before the officer gets to your car can be a signal to the officer that something is wrong,” Abi-Adal said. “The officer is already in a heightened state of alert when he is approaching your car. If he does not know what you are reaching for, he may get worried. Officers have been shot on traffic stops in the past. Please remember, the officer doesn’t know who you are until he identifies who you are.”
After spending his career in law enforcement – including patrol, with the Cyber Crimes Unit and now as commander of the Orion Township Substation – Lt. Darren Ofiara has experienced an array of crimes and infractions, from felonies to the more routine traffic stops and offers this advice on what to do if you get pulled over for a traffic violation.
“If you start getting furtive in the car that causes us concern,” Ofiara said. “Don’t do a lot of grabbing and reaching because we don’t know what we’re walking into. Don’t ever exit the vehicle. Wait in your car until we come to you.”
Deputies do not want people to get out of the vehicle, and this is for their own safety.
“If another car comes by, we don’t want you to get hit. We prefer to get hit and not just a citizen, randomly,” Ofiara said.
Overall, Ofiara said that staying calm is key.
“You could be having a bad day; we could be having a bad day. When two people have bad days things can escalate and that’s the last thing we want from either side. We’re not trying to cause you problems,” Ofiara said.
If a driver has a gun on them – such as if they have a CPL – tell the officer immediately, according to Ofiara.
“If you’re a CPL holder and you have a gun on your person or in your vehicle, the first thing you’re supposed to do is tell us your name, that you have a gun in the car and that you have a CPL license and where the weapon is,” Ofiara said. “That way we’ll know there is a weapon in the car. And don’t go grabbing for the gun. Just follow what the deputy is asking. They just want to make sure they can identify who you are, make sure the vehicle is legal and we’ll go from there.”
Aside from the daily routines of being a police officer, there are funny and unique situations that have come up over the years.
“Once while on a midnight shift, a deputy was stopped behind another vehicle at a red light,” explained Abi-Adal. “The driver of the car, not knowing who was behind him, picked up a bag of drugs he had just purchased and was admiring them in the deputy’s headlights.
“The driver went to jail.”
Solwold said he has “many funny stories, for sure.”
“I stopped this driver for speeding in downtown Oxford and upon approaching the car, he had his window down, so I asked him if everything was okay because he was doing 20 over the speed limit and his response was that his tee time was at 9 o’clock,” said Solwold. “My response was to him, ‘Sir, you’re not allowed to speed to get to the golf course on time.’
“I stopped a driver for almost causing an accident downtown and upon approaching the car, I could smell that he had been drinking. I asked how much he had to drink, and the usual answer is a couple, but the driver responded, ‘I’ll be honest, I’ve been drinking for two days.’ I then asked the driver to step out and perform sobrieties. The first test was stating the alphabet from A to Z. I told the driver to start when he was ready and he proceeded with A,B,C,D, two all-beef patty special sauce lettuce cheese. I then advised the driver again to state the alphabet from A to Z and he started to sing again but asked me to sing along.
“I can’t make these up. Please drive safe and be kind. Thank you.”
“I’ve seen everything when it comes to traffic stops, but there was one that’s really stuck with me,” Ofiara said.
He and a reserve deputy were on patrol and stopped a vehicle for speeding in Independence Township on Maybee Road. The driver was a teenage boy. Ofiara wrote the 17-year-old a speeding ticket and tried handing it to the teen.
“I refuse the ticket,” the teen said.
“You have to take the ticket,” Ofiara told the teen.
“I refuse,” the teen said. “I’m not going to take it. My dad is going to kill me.”
Ofiara then told the teen to tell his father to call him if he wished, but informed the teen he had to take the ticket. The teen refused again. And again. And again. Finally, Ofiara tossed the ticket into the teen’s vehicle and said goodbye.
The teen did not let the situation end there and started following Ofiara’s patrol vehicle.
“He followed me for the next three miles. Eventually, I stopped and asked him, ‘What’s going on, kid?’ And he said, ‘I can’t have this ticket. My dad’s going to take the car away.’
I told him ‘My number is right there, have your dad call me.’”
The case ended up in court and Ofiara talked to the teen’s father and worked everything out.
“He was just so horrified knowing that his parents would know that he got a ticket and they were going to take his car away that he followed me for miles refusing to take the ticket,” Ofiara said. “That one has just always stuck with me.”
Above all else, a traffic stop and any interaction with a police officer should be safe and comfortable.
Ofiara said he’s sometimes in street clothes but has his badge out when approaching a vehicle and has his business cards handy that he gives to people.
But if people do not feel comfortable with the situation, they can call 911 and the sheriff’s office will send a marked car.
“First and foremost, if you have a situation that you’re unsure of, wait until you’re in a safe spot that you’re comfortable with making a stop,” Ofiara said. “If you’re still not comfortable, call 911.”