Traffic Stop Survival, Part 2 - Patrol -

Traffic Stop Survival, Part 2

Tips for roadside readiness



JP Molnar | From the July 2010 Issue Monday, July 19, 2010

As I write this article, one officer in Phoenix Valley is injured and another is dead. The first, a DPS officer, had his patrol vehicle struck from behind while conducting a traffic stop. Thankfully, he’ll survive. The second, Phoenix Police Officer Travis Murphy was tragically shot and killed while attempting to locate and apprehend a suspect who fled an attempted traffic stop. Although the circumstances surrounding both incidents were vastly different, the commonality between them is that vehicles, traffic violations and enforcement actions were involved.

As I mentioned in Part I of Surviving Traffic Stops, conducting vehicle-related enforcement activities causes one of the highest frequencies of officer-
related injuries and deaths. Sometimes, it’s the actual violator, as in Officer Murphy’s case, that’s the root cause. In other cases, as with the DPS officer, an individual unrelated to the traffic stop caused mayhem by plowing into the officer’s vehicle. The danger is out there, and we must protect ourselves in every manner we can.

Get What You Need the First Time
As I mentioned in the Part I, one element of a successful stop is command presence. It begins from the moment you initiate the stop, and every action you take from that point on can help to ensure or detract from gaining compliance and cooperation from the violator. Once you’ve decided to make your approach and make contact with the driver and any occupants, take the time to clearly roster all the information you need from each individual in the vehicle. Remember: The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that you have the right to identify each person in the vehicle, so do it.

I’ve found that many occupants of vehicles seem to be content to travel the world with no apparent physical identification. As we also know, not everyone we deal with has the purest intentions. Oftentimes, it can be a ploy on their part in hopes you won’t discover their identity. There are opportunities to dig deeper, and this is a good time to slow the traffic stop down.

Again, you control the stop, not vice versa. Example: One evening, I conducted a traffic stop where the driver, a young female, purported to have no identification. She provided me with a DOB, descriptors, address and approximate age that all seemed to be consistent. As was my practice, I ran her license and criminal record based on the information she provided. Unfortunately for her, the information she provided me was that of her sister who had several outstanding warrants at the time. I arrested her based on knowledge she provided, and she didn’t protest.

Ironically, once I arrived at jail, a deputy recognized the subject from previous contacts, and it was determined her actual identity revealed even more warrants. Thus, I booked her on those, plus myriad other charges, like obstruction. The point: Asking the questions up front and digging till the answers were revealed made the difference between simply writing a ticket for no license and a trip to jail.

The same goes for each individual in the vehicle. If they say they have no identification, ask for all of the basics, plus any addresses of residence. If needed, ask if they’re on parole or probation, and if so, who their PO is. Ask them how they know the other people in the vehicle. Ask what you need to ensure that, when you walk back to your vehicle and begin to run locals and NCIC on them, you aren’t missing anything.

The same goes with the driver and the necessary paperwork for the vehicle. If the registration or insurance doesn’t match the driver, ask why. Again, you set the tone of the stop, and your thoroughness in the beginning will let the occupants of the vehicle know you’re in control. It will also alert you to any inconsistencies in stories, excessive occupants with no purported identification and unusual body language or nervousness.

This all contributes to officer safety issues and allows you to determine the need to request additional officers at the scene. Many times, upon contacting the driver and occupants the first time, I figured out that someone in the vehicle had warrants. My demeanor didn’t change externally. I appeared to conduct business as usual. My message was clear, authoritative and presented from a physical position of advantage.

Remember: If you appear nervous, it’s a sign you’re losing control of the stop. Keep your cool as you gather information, and begin a checklist of what resources you’ll need to complete the stop. Obviously, if a threat presents itself, you must address it immediately, but barring that, take your time and get what you need. The last thing you need is to have to walk back up to the vehicle again because you forgot to ask for insurance proof, etc. Each time you contact the violator, the chance for non-compliance increases.

Better to Sweat than Bleed
When I worked in the southwest as a trooper, I worked swing shift in a summer climate that routinely made the surface temperature of the asphalt and concrete near 170 degrees. It wasn’t uncommon for shoe treads to melt if you stood in one place too long. Fire trucks would actually start to sink into the asphalt on the hottest days because the surface would get gooey. Hot? Yes! But the fact is, even on the hottest days, I conducted my traffic stops while standing outside my car. Why? Because I saw too many patrol vehicles struck from behind and officers who were sitting in the driver’s seat like ducks. Other times, a violator would hop out of their vehicle and begin to walk back toward an officer, mostly to provide information or to ask a question. The officer was stuck in a tactical disadvantage by sitting behind the wheel.


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JP MolnarJP Molnar, Law Officer's Cruiser Corner columnist, is a former state trooper and has been teaching EVOC since 1991 for numerous agencies.


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