August 22, 2015 • By Dennis Beaver

For a moment, imagine yourself as a Highway Patrol officer, which of course means turning on the red lights, possibly the siren, and pulling a vehicle over for speeding, then, wondering:
“Just how dangerous could this stop become?”

To Hanford-based California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Barresi, and, “To police officers everywhere, these are the questions we ask ourselves, as traffic stops are one of the most dangerous aspects of law enforcement,” adding, “And there is a great deal that the public can do which helps to put the officer at ease.”

While a DUI or other misdemeanor and felony traffic offenses require an arrest, officers have discretion with infractions, such as speeding.

“How a driver responds when the red lights go on can influence the outcome — a citation or warning,” Barresi says. “Safety — for the driver, occupants and officer — is the most important consideration in a traffic stop. When you see the red lights or hear the siren, don’t panic and do not make abrupt lane changes. Instead, activate your turn signal, so that the officer knows that you are properly responding.
“Either pull over to the right, or follow the officer’s instructions which you may hear over the P.A. system. Turn your radio off and avoid distractions. This is absolutely not the time to text or make a phone call,” he underscores.

“When a driver is well-organized — license, registration and proof of insurance quickly at hand — less time is needed to spend on the side of the road. It is simply human nature to view this as being considerate of the officer,” Barresi notes.

“With those documents in mind, what concerns officers most as they approach the vehicle?” we asked.
“We often see people fumbling around in their glove box, but what really gets the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up is when someone spins around backward, grabbing an item from the rear seat or floor. Sure, most always it’s their purse or wallet, but what if it’s something else? And that situation raises the tension level significantly.

“So, unless you have them already out, it is always best to just remain seated, lower your window, keep hands on the steering wheel, and please, no sudden movements and do not get out of the vehicle unless instructed. If it is a night-time stop, turn on interior lights, and, if you have tinted windows, it is a very good idea to roll them down, which shows that you are aware of the officer’s concerns.”

‘Our goal is to correct behavior’

“I don’t particularly enjoy writing tickets. Instead, I’d rather assist someone in need, investigate a complex scene or remove an impaired driver from the roadway. As our goal is to correct behavior, writing tickets is part of that task. Collisions are caused by people driving at high rates of speed, under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both, following too closely, and so forth.

“Drivers who get tickets are often not paying attention, don’t know or care what the speed limit is, or drive grossly over the limit. With their required information ready, and showing sincere remorse, these people are more likely to conclude the enforcement contact with a warning instead of a citation,” he points out.

As the Hanford Area Public Information Officer, Barresi is “Able to educate the motoring public in many ways — often from a road-side chat —allowing the motorist to drive off feeling they got one heck of a deal. I’m sure it’s an enforcement contact they will remember and tell their friends about — not because they ‘got out’ of a ticket — rather, because of the educational message I hope gets passed along.

“But where the person is driving just as fast and is argumentative — wanting to have a trial on the side of the road — their behavior might require a citation instead of a verbal warning. As we make notes on our citations, the driver’s attitude matters a great deal, vulgar or nice gets told to the judge, in court.”

For several years, all CHP squad cars have been equipped with dash cams and sophisticated audio recording devices which record all stops. “It can be amusing when these videos are played in court, but not necessarily for the defendant,” he observes with a broad smile.

Eight years a California Highway Patrol officer, Barresi most enjoys “The fact that I can help people. To all CHP officers, this is more than just a job; it allows us to serve our communities and the people of California.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.