While noting that a warrant is not needed for a police officer to execute a search during a traffic stop, Head of the Traffic Division in the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force Sergeant Augustus Bruce is advising motorists that law enforcers are still required to follow certain protocols during a stop.
In an interview with BVI News this week, Sergeant Bruce said police officers ought to disclose the purpose of the stop to motorists before proceeding, for example.
“You don’t just stop a vehicle and just say, ‘come outside, I want to search your vehicle’. That is not the correct way,” the top traffic cop said.
“So if, for example, I stop a vehicle and just rush into the vehicle and start searching the vehicle without identifying myself and let the person know why I am searching this vehicle and he/she retaliated, in a sense, the person has a right to retaliate. And if they resist you, you cannot charge the person for resisting of arrest or if they assault you, you cannot charge the person for assault on a police officer. You can charge them for an assault on you the person but not in the office of a police officer,” he explained.
“When you (a police officer) stops a vehicle; identify yourself and your office and you let the person know what duty you are carrying out at the time,” Sergeant Bruce added.
“As a police officer, if you have reasons to suspect that a person is carrying, for example, drugs and we have that info, we, therefore, stop the vehicle. We do not need a warrant at the time to stop the vehicle. We will let the person know that we smell an odour of marijuana, in this instance, and inform them that we want to conduct a search,” the Sergeant stated.
“But if someone is investigating a matter for example such as burglary then we will need a warrant signed by a magistrate to go that person’s home,” he added.
The Sergeant, however, said there are ‘special and sensitive’ circumstances which may result in an officer withholding their reason for stopping a vehicle.
He explained that these circumstances may include instances when they may have to “act promptly”.
“For example, you stop a person and you understand that they are carrying a firearm. You can’t go and tell them that they carrying a firearm because it presents the opportunity for them to draw the firearm and possibly kill you. So it all depends on the situation at hand,” he reasoned.
Stop and Searches
The ranked law enforcer also explained the reasoning behind some of the stop and searches done by police officials on the roadways.
He explained that police officers do not stop specific vehicles while conducting what he described as a ‘general check’.
“If you do that then you are doing selective policing. Once we are doing a general stop, we stop any vehicle,” Sergeant Bruce stated.
He added: “There are also times when you’re conducting an investigation and you’re targeting a specific make or model of vehicles. So, you would try to get those type of vehicles based on your investigations. It all depends on what the officer is assigned to do at the point in time.”
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