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Indiana Law Enforcement Academy

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Publisher’s Note: This edition of the Journal is written by Lt. Tom Moore.  Tom has been with the Academy more than ten years and is the O.I.C. of our S.T.O.P.S program.  In this article, he alerts officers to some of the other dangers of the job.  We are all aware of the ambushes that have recently occurred against officers.  In such times as these, it is important to remember that tragedy can strike while performing other duties as well.

Hidden Dangers of Roadside Contacts

By Lt. Tom Moore, ILEA

As Law Enforcement professionals we have all been made aware of the hazards we face day in and day out in regards to conducting traffic stops.  Thousands of traffic stops are conducted daily, in all types of weather, in broad daylight and in the hours of darkness.  Most of these stops are performed without injury to the officer or violator.

When we think of police officers being injured during the performance of a traffic stop there are typically two (2) different assaults that occur:  Felonious and Accidental Assaults.

We always need to be vigilant and watch the actions of the occupants of the vehicle.  We must also modify our tactics to prepare for the accidental assaults that occur from other motorist driving into the scene of a traffic stop or some other type of roadside contact.  Drivers under the influence, sleep deprived or distracted from cell phones are just a few of the reasons these types of assaults are a danger to police officers. Vehicle positioning is also a consideration during these stops.

While the above mentioned assaults are something we should always be concerned about, there is another danger that officers sometimes overlook that could end up with potentially fatal results: the motorist assist.

While on patrol we encounter all types of situations.  One situation that we commonly drive up on or are dispatched to is the motorist assist or a disabled vehicle.
How many officers let their guard down when handling a stranded motorist or disabled vehicle? Do officers use the same tactics as they would on a low risk or unknown traffic stop?

From a statistical standpoint, 4 out of 5 crimes committed involve the use of some type of vehicle.  Do these vehicles breakdown along the roadside? Who is this person and what is their background? Do they have outstanding warrants?  Where are they coming from or going to? Do we as officers put on our “friendly” face and let our guard down thinking they just need our help?

As contact professionals we need to be cautious on all of our roadside contacts.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when approaching these types of roadside contacts:

  • Be cautious, constantly assess the situation.
  • Call information into dispatch as you would a self initiated traffic stop: location, number of visible occupants, vehicle type and license plate information.  Try to get all information into dispatch before exiting your vehicle.
  • Decide if it would be safer to call the driver or occupant back to you at your patrol vehicle instead of approaching a subject or situation you know nothing about.  While the subject is walking back to you, constantly assess body language, conduct a visual pat down on the subject(s) looking for indicators of a weapon, look for inappropriate clothing for weather conditions and control their hands.  This walk back can be a useful tactic especially if there are multiple occupants in or around the vehicle.  By doing this you only have to deal with one person while maintaining a visual on the others.  Calling for back up may also be useful in this situation.
  • Conduct your field interview and determine your best course of action.

Complacency has always been a “dirty” word used by law enforcement trainers.  As more officers conduct stops/contacts with successful outcomes, it becomes easier to assume that the next one will turn out the same way.  Please let’s not gamble with our next roadside contact; Murphy is always ready to be invited to your next stop.

Lt. Tom Moore, Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.  Lt. Moore is the O.I.C of Traffic Stops training at the Academy.

[As always, anyone interested in submitting an article to the Journal is invited to do so by emailing: mlindsay@ilea.in.gov with a copy of the article attached to the email.]