The Police Department strives to provide service to everyone in the community fairly and equally.
What to Do if You Are Stopped by a Police Officer
In the course of carrying out their duties in law enforcement, it frequently becomes necessary for police officers to stop a person and inquire about their name, address and identification. Sometimes a very routine encounter might cause a person to feel intimidated or respond in a manner that gives rise to conflict or suspicion.
Generally, police officers will:
- Provide their name upon request
- If in plain clothes, identify themselves when taking action
- Inform a person about the reason for being stopped or questioned
- Only use the amount of force necessary to effect the arrest of a suspect. Excessive force is not tolerated by the department.
The following information will explain what to expect if a police officer stops you for questioning or comes to your home, as well as provide guidelines on how to respond to the questioning process. This is not a legal advisory.
Law enforcement representatives question a person for several reasons:
- They may be investigating a complaint phoned into police by someone in the neighborhood
- They may be investigating a report of some criminal activity that has just occurred in the area
- They may have observed something that indicates you are having trouble and need assistance
- Your presence might indicate that you are a potential witness who would be able to provide valuable information in an investigation
The best way for them to clarify the situation is to ask questions. With all due respect to citizens' rights, officers have a responsibility to properly investigate matters which might threaten public safety or involve breaking the law. Their questions are not necessarily an accusation and your cooperative response can alleviate potential conflict.
Sometimes problems arise when it seems as if a police officer has stopped to question you for what appears to be no reason at all. Since the time factor may be crucial in investigating a possible crime, police officers are trained to observe and evaluate a situation, and to act if they have a reasonable suspicion that you may in some way be involved in an incident. There are many factors that officers take into consideration in determining if they have a reasonable suspicion to stop and question someone. Every situation is different, but some factors they may consider are:
- Police may have a minimal description of a suspect that you might resemble
- You might be in an area where a crime has just been committed
- Your actions appear to be suspicious (i.e. running from an area where a crime has just been committed) and you act even more suspiciously when you see the police officer
- Someone might have pointed you out as a suspect
If an officer does stop and question you, your forthright responses will usually quickly resolve the situation. If the officer hasn't told you why you have been stopped, you may inquire. If, despite these considerations, you feel you do not want to respond, the officer must respect your right not to answer. However, your cooperation would be most helpful in aiding a police investigation.
A traffic stop is one of the most frequent encounters between citizens and police. Usually, police officers will pull a vehicle over if they have reason to believe that some offense has occurred. You might feel anxious, irritated at the delay or concerned about a possible citation. However, officers are also concerned about possible threats to their personal safety while performing their duties. The following recommended procedures will ensure the traffic stop can be completed quickly and safely.
- When signaled by an officer, safely pull over to a place out of traffic flow.
- Sit calmly with your hands visible on the steering wheel. If you have passengers, ask them to sit quietly with their hands visible.
- Avoid sudden movements or ducking in the seat as these actions can unnecessarily alarm the officer.
- If it is nighttime, turn on your interior lights when you pull the car over. For safety reasons, the officer will want to visually scan the car's interior before proceeding.
- Do not get out of your car unless the officer asks you to step out. If you are asked to do so, comply in a calm manner.
- A sure way to put an officer at ease is to communicate your actions in advance by telling the officer what you will be doing before you move. Also, you can ask to see the officer's identification.
- If requested, you must give the officer your driver's license and vehicle registration. Tell the officer where it is before reaching for it—especially if it is tucked away in the glove box or some other unusual place.
If you are issued a citation, you will be asked to sign it. Signing is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment that you have received the citation. While you might wish to clarify the circumstances of the citation, keep in mind that your guilt or innocence can only be determined in court. Arguments over or protests about the situation cannot be resolved in the street.
If a police officer knocks on your door, it is usually to:
- Interview you or a member of your household as a witness to an incident that is being investigated
- Make a notification
- Serve an arrest warrant
- Serve a search and seizure warrant
Whenever police come to your door, they should willingly provide identification and state their purpose for being there. However, when serving a warrant, officers may dispense with the knock and announce requirement if they believe some emergency circumstances exist that require a speedy or unannounced entry. Examples of such circumstances include, but are not limited to, protection of life or the possibility that evidence might be destroyed.
If the officers have a warrant, you may ask to see a copy of it, although you must comply with the warrant and admit the officers into your house.
It is not necessary for the arrest warrant to be in the officers' possession for them to make an arrest. An arrest warrant commands a police officer to arrest the person named in the warrant. It also authorizes the officer to search the residence of the named individual in order to locate the person to carry out the arrest. An arrest warrant does not permit the entry and search of a third party's residence for the named person without a search and seizure warrant.
Search and Seizure Warrants
A search and seizure warrant is a document supported by an affidavit and signed by a judge commanding a police officer to search a specifically named premises for the property or person described in the warrant. An officer may execute a search and seizure warrant at any time of the day.
- The officer will provide the resident with a copy of the warrant after reading the contents of the warrant to them. (Note: The owner or occupant does not have to be present, in which case, a copy of the warrant and inventory will be left at the residence in a conspicuous location.)
- Once the search is completed, a list of the property seized will be provided.
Police officers may conduct a search without a warrant in certain situations. Two main examples of when this might occur would be in situations involving:
- Protection of life or the possibility that evidence might be destroyed
- Searches done with the consent of a person who has authority over the property. If you consent to a search, you have the right to withdraw that consent at any time during the search. Just clearly tell the officers that you wish the search to stop.
Call 911 to:
- Receive immediate police assistance
- Report an emergency involving child safety or an abandoned child
- Initiate an investigation of the suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of a vulnerable adult, including the elderly and younger disabled adults (with a physical or mental disability or both)
Find local organizations and resources for victims of abuse.
If you are a victim of family violence, the first thing to consider is your safety and getting to a safe place.
- Once you are safe, call the police immediately.
- The police will respond to your call and take the necessary actions to ensure your safety.
- The police will provide you with information concerning what you can do to further your right to safety from violence.
- The police will fill out a report. Be sure you obtain a copy, which contains important information and may be needed later.
- The police will assist victims of family violence in pursuing legal options, safe shelter and counseling services.
The Baltimore County Domestic Violence Coordinating Committee urges victims of abuse to:
- File a temporary protective order
- File a police report
- Visit your local district's Court Commissioner to issue a summons or warrant
Fraudulent Internet Purchases
If you have purchased something over the Internet, haven't received it and feel that you are a victim of a theft (not just a business dispute), you must report this to the law enforcement agency where the suspect resides. You may also file a report to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
The placement of portable basketball goals on any of the public highways, roads, bridges, streets, avenues, lanes or alleys located in Baltimore County is against the law. Per Baltimore County Code, Section 18-2-602 Obstruction of Streets, any person placing any obstruction upon any of the public highways, roads, bridges, streets, avenues, lanes, or alleys of the County or interfering or obstructing the side ditches or drains thereof or encroaching upon the same with fences or other obstructions or in any other manner, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $100 for each offense. To report these violations, call 911 or your local COT.
Unlocked or Unattended Vehicles
Help prevent vehicle theft and residential burglaries in your neighborhood by locking your vehicle and making sure and that all keys have been removed before you walk away.
Maryland Annotated Vehicle Code prohibits an operator of a vehicle to leave a vehicle running and unattended unless the operator:
- Is in charge of a motor vehicle that has had the engine started using a remote keyless ignition system and has been operating unattended for up to five consecutive minutes when the vehicle is not in motion
- Allows a motor vehicle that is locked and on private property, not open to the public, to operate unattended for up to five consecutive minutes when the vehicle is not in motion
Leaving a vehicle alone with the engine running is against the law. Officers can issue a ticket that is accompanied by a $70 fine and one point against your driving record. Unattended, running vehicles also pose a safety hazard—if the vehicle slips out of gear and causes an accident, you could be issued a ticket with a $110 fine and three points against your driving record.
Laws Involving Motorized ATVs, Bikes, Scooters and Mopeds
ATV/dirt bike operators need to drive their equipment legally and safely.
- Off-Roading—ATVs/dirt bikes cannot be operated as an off-road vehicle within 300 feet of a residence or between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.
- On private property—ATVs/dirt bikes cannot be operated on private property without the express written permission of the property owner. The written consent must be with the operator at all times. Those who operate ATVs/dirt bikes on private property without permission could face trespassing charges.
- On roadways/Public Property
- ATVs cannot be operated on roadways or public property.
- Dirt bikes can be driven on roadways or public property only as a motor vehicle, meaning they must be properly registered and tagged as a motorcycle and the proper license must be in possession.
- Registration Permit and Card—All ATVs/dirt bikes operated anywhere in Baltimore County must display a County registration permit, which can be obtained through the Miscellaneous Permit Processing division. A registration card must be carried and shown when requested by a police officer.
- Safety Equipment—Headgear is required for minors. All riders are required to have eye protection, either in the form of protective devices or windscreens that protect the eyes.
A motorized scooter is a two-wheeled device with handlebars that is designed to be stood on by the operator and is powered by an electric or gas motor. Under county code, motorized scooters cannot be driven on any public road or highway. They can be ridden only on private property and only with the property owner’s permission.
A motor scooter has a seat for the operator, and two wheels, one of which is 10” in diameter or more and has a step-through chassis. It has a motor with a rating of 2.7 brake horsepower or less, or a motor with a capacity of 50cc displacement or less and is equipped with an automatic transmission.
A moped is a bicycle designed to be operated with the assistance of a motor and is equipped with pedals that mechanically drive the rear wheels. It has two or three wheels, one of which is more than 14 inches in diameter, and has a motor with a rating of 1.5 brake horsepower or less, and an internal combustion engine of 50cc piston displacement or less.
The laws governing mopeds are similar to those governing motor scooters.
Mopeds/motor scooters can be ridden on any road where the speed limit is 50 miles per hour or less, but they cannot be driven faster than 30 miles per hour.
Mopeds/motor scooters must:
- Have appropriate headlights
- Have rear reflectors
- Have brakes
- Be equipped with a bell or other warning device capable of being heard from a distance of at least 100 feet
- Provide insurance
- Wear a helmet
- Have a title decal
- Possess a valid Maryland driver’s license or a valid moped license
If operators fail to comply with the law and the title decal is not present, they will be issued a citation and will have a grace period of 30 days to obtain the decal.
Pocket rockets, mini-cycles or mini-Harleys do not have the characteristics of the devices listed above. For example, unlike motorized scooters, they have seats and they do not have the step-through chassis of a moped. In addition, under state law, these vehicles do not fit the description of a motor vehicle, and they cannot be registered and insured.
- On Public Roads—Since they meet no legal requirements, they cannot be operated on public roads or streets.
- On Private Property—They can be operated on private property only with the property owner’s permission. They cannot be operated within 300 feet of the property line of a residence.