Every year, police officers conduct over 20 million traffic stops, the most statistically dangerous activity known to law enforcers. The idea is to discourage reckless driving and, in some cases, identify drivers who are capable of violent felonies behind the wheel. Traffic stops represent more risk to officers than any other task; dangers range from being struck by passing vehicles or getting dragged by a car fleeing the stop to physical assault and even attack by firearms.
As with any other risk, some practices will moderate the vulnerability involved in the situation. Our goal is to shed some light on the subject, providing advice that ultimately protects the integrity of law enforcement at any level.
1. Location: Always place the vehicle at your convenience.
A regular stop can escalate to unnecessary danger when the driver is not cooperating and disregards the command when the lights and siren go on. The angry driver may even intend to flee the scene in some cases. Citizens under the influence of substances often lose sight of conscious thought and common sense, making them forget the right thing to do: moving to the right and stopping.
If the individual stops abruptly right in the middle of an interstate or an intersection, do not attempt to fix matters while outside of your police vehicle. Redirect them to a safer location with a clear command delivered through your P.A. system.
Light up the subject and choose your spot wisely before pulling them over to an area where you have the upper ground. The bottom line is: that if you don’t like their position, move them to a safer spot for you.
2. Approach: Don’t be predictable.
A safe stop is never the same as the last one; you should approach every situation considering every possible variable.
While drivers often expect to be approached from their side, try surprising the individual from the passenger window. This tactic offers a fantastic opportunity to check the car’s interior, see if more occupants are inside, and count every last set of hands. Also, try to use the passenger-side mirror, particularly in a solo-occupied vehicle, to get a peek at the driver’s hands. Remember, the hands kill; always have a clear sight of them.
The passenger-side approach will always beat the traditional driver-approach tactic, and individuals will not expect a move that’s playing to your advantage.
3. Awareness: Keep a sharp laser focus at all times.
So you picked the perfect spot to conduct your inspection and walked to the passenger side of the car; at this point, it is crucial to keep your guard up and avoid getting distracted by your citation book or radio while keeping the subject in sight, constantly checking that everyone is still in the car.
After the initial approach, many officers act more casually, thinking that all risk has been eliminated. This is a terrible mistake, considering that it is more likely to have a confrontation when the individual has had time to prepare for an assault, either vocally or physically.
The key lies in staying focused at all times.
4. Re-approach: Never trust your first impressions.
Did you correctly identify all the objects within reach of the individual? If not, the situation demands another cautious scan of the interior. Use the side mirror again to observe the driver’s hand. The second approach offers more risk than the first. No matter how aware you are of the subject, you can’t expect to catch every concealed element based on one assessment.
Until you can confirm hands are empty and know that there is no threat, don’t move past your subject’s blind spot. Use your position to observe, gain assurance, and then proceed. You should never act casually just because the individual charmingly collaborated the first time.
5. Cut ‘em loose
The inspection is finally over, you wished them a nice day, but the job is not over. Take another glance at the vehicle before it moves away, signal the passengers to make them aware of your presence, letting them know you expect full compliance until the final instruction is given.
These are five essential practices that can reduce the threats involved in one of the most dangerous tasks law enforcement execute on any given day. Be cautious and follow them to your advantage.