My law enforcement career now spans 31 years. For 25 of those years, I have been an instructor for in-service officers, police recruits and SWAT personnel, specializing in the areas of firearms, defensive tactics and patrol operations. Improving officer survival does not always require actual hands-on training and instruction in the latest tactics and methodologies. Sometimes, officer survival can be improved or enhanced through studying the thoughts, experiences and suggestions of others. Those of us who write such things hope to change the way officers perceive the world around them whether on duty or off.
Here are some of the most important foundations for conducting safe and controlled traffic stops.
All Stops Are High Risk
There are no categories such as “low risk,” moderate risk,” and “high risk” traffic stops. Teaching officers that some stops are less inherently dangerous than others is setting them up for serious injury or death should they adopt that mindset. Think about this. When you stop a violator for any reason, you are interfering with and interrupting the activities of the most dangerous and unpredictable animal on the planet. No matter how much information you have about that violator and their vehicle before the stop, there is one thing we can never know regardless of our technology: What is going on in their mind. Violators are unpredictable.
Another term that needs to be dumped is “routine.” There is nothing that is ever “routine” when it comes to interrupting the activities of another human being. Think I’m wrong? How many officers have you heard of being killed in the line of duty during so-called “low risk” or “routine” stops? But, if we drop the vernacular of low, moderate, high risk or routine traffic stops, what do we use in their place so we can discuss, learn and teach proper traffic stop techniques?