I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of cops dying. I hate seeing updates via ODMP.com (Officer Down Memorial Page) every time a cop is killed. In the last decade, I’ve been to 22 funerals. The lion’s share of these has been in the last 7 years, and all within 100 miles of my jurisdiction. Each of these experiences has taken a little bit of my soul. The last one I attended was for two Santa Cruz County Deputies. I’m not ashamed to say I couldn’t stay inside for the service; my psyche couldn’t hang. When I saw a picture of the deceased female deputy holding her newborn that was it, I had reached capacity.
Statistically, traffic stops are one of the deadliest experiences for a police officer, if not the most. I realize, of course, cops are killed in a variety of scenarios. The two I reference above were killed during a sexual assault investigation at a suspect’s home. I’m not a tactical expert in warrant services or a SWAT guy, and I’ve never written an ops plan.
I am, however, a traffic enforcement stop specialist. I am an expert. I understand the arrogance that may be associated with those statements, but I ride a motor, remember? That’s how we’re wired. The fact of the matter is I’ve made more stops in the last 7 years than most beat cops make over the span of their career. It would behoove you to consider my perspective.
Previously I’ve written about driver-side vs. passenger-side approaches on traffic stops. This time I want to talk about the occupants of the vehicle, and what your SOP is for dealing with them. Please defer to your department policy insofar as this is concerned, but con-sider the circumstances of each stop.
I conducted a completely unscientific poll on Facebook and asked this question: Do you want people on a traffic stop in or out of the car? The overwhelming response was to keep them in the car. Apparently, there are some states/jurisdictions that, as a matter of course, routinely pull people out of the car and have them sit in the front seat of the patrol car. If this is your way of doing things, my hope is you never once slip into complacency because this method is a great way to get you killed.
How many YouTube videos have you seen involving violators (eventual homicide suspects) out of their cars, milling about while the cop is either distracted or just simply not paying attention? I’ve lost count. Don’t misunderstand, my intent isn’t to Monday morning quarterback a dead officer’s mistakes, but if we don’t learn from their horrifying and fatal experiences, we do them and ourselves a major disservice.
It’s bad enough your butt’s hanging out in trafﬁc. When occupants do this they risk getting hit by a passing car. More importantly, it could mean there’s more going on than meets the eye.
I support a passenger-side approach for the average traffic stop. I also strongly advocate keeping all occupants inside the vehicle. Here’s why.
It’s significantly more difficult for me to get shot if the occupants in the car are contained vs. walking around.
If need be, I can control the stop from a distance using my PA. Distance creates safety.
If they’re in the car, it becomes harder for them to just chuck evidence hither and yon.
If I ask/order them to stay in the car, but they insist on getting out, it’s a big red flag there may be more here than meets the eye. And if push comes to shove, many states allow officers to arrest those who refuse to follow a lawful order. At the very least, it could be articulated that a longer detention is valid.
When you approach a car, you should be looking for hands. I want to see the hands of the driver and all the passengers if possible. I do this every time I approach. I don’t give a crap if it’s a soccer mom or not. Crazy takes all kinds of forms. If the driver is hell-bent on getting out of the car, there’s nothing wrong with calling for a cover car to babysit them while you concentrate on scratching out a cite or vehicle search.
No cover? No problem. If they won’t listen, you have the nice backseat of your patrol car they can sit in. If they’re already agitated, you can articulate a pat down for officer safety and stuff them in your car. They’re contained and your safety just increased significantly. Remember, the car stop is yours. You own the scene until they sign the ticket and you wish them a good day. When that happens, you’ve just per-formed a routine traffic stop.