Test Your Traffic Stop Knowledge

Traffic stop: check your knowledge

Officers absolutely must be on high alert during each and every traffic stop. And they must remain in that heightened state of “ready for anything” from the moment they activate their blue lights until the stop is complete and they’re back in the safety of their patrol cars. After all, they never know what to expect. The driver could be wanted for a serious crime, such as murder, or rape. Is he carrying dangerous drugs or other contraband? Is he armed? Are there explosives in the car? Is this an ambush? Suicide by cop? The list goes on and on.

Police academy instructors teach recruits how to be safe. They set up mock exercises simulating every possible scenario that officers could encounter once they hit the streets. Still, traffic stops are one of the most dangerous duties of police work. There are many unknowns. Too many. And the danger level is amplified many times when stopping a car at night.

Imagine that it’s 2 a.m. and you’re patrolling a lonely stretch of highway when you spot a red sports car parked on the shoulder of the road. Headlights and brake lights are both on. The driver has his foot on the pedal. You pull in behind the car and flip the toggle switch to activate your blue strobe lights (to let them know you’re a police officer), and immediately hear loud music blaring from the car’s speakers. The car’s windows are tinted black and you can’t see inside, but the motions of the vehicle tell you people are moving around. To make things even worse there’s no moonlight or streetlamps. For all you know, the driver and an unknown number of passengers could be pointing machine guns at you. Your nearest backup is a good twenty minutes away. Believe me, it’s unnerving, to say the least.

New officers learn to do certain things when making traffic stops. The officer in the picture above, for example, has positioned her patrol car on an angle to the roadway, with the front tires also angled out toward the street. She has her left hand on the trunk of the car. Why not her right hand? She’s looking ahead at the passing car while keeping the driver in her line of vision. She’s standing a certain way. Actually, it appears that she’s doing everything right. Good for her, because she had no idea a photographer was behind her. We were pretty sneaky.

Wait a minute. If a camera-toting writer and her supervisor could sneak up behind her…well, why couldn’t a cop killer do the same?

Okay, enough of my rambling. It’s time to put the shiny shoe on the other foot.  I’m asking each of you to tell me why the officer decided to do the things she’d done. And, is there anything else she could have done to ensure her safety?

Remember, she wants to go home at the end of her shift, and she wants to make it there without any bullet holes in her body.

14 replies
  1. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Yes, the vehicle is angled to provide cover. The engine block does indeed stop most handgun rounds. Also, the tires/wheels are angled out to provide protection for the officer’s legs and feet. The “A” post (the piece of metal that runs from the car door/hood to the roof also offers a bit of protection from gunfire.

    And, if angled properly the car will somewhat deflect a vehicle approaching from the rear, if it happens to veer toward the officer (the car above should have been angled a bit more toward the roadway).

    The left hand on the trunk is to be sure the trunk is closed. People have hidden there in the past to ambush an approaching officer. If the trunk is not closed, the officer can apply enough downward pressure to engage the latch.

  2. GunDiva
    GunDiva says:

    I had another thought on my way to work today. Is it so she has a place to retreat that offers cover, not just concealment? The engine block should be sufficient cover to stop a handgun round, I think.

  3. Pat Brown
    Pat Brown says:

    Another reason for her hand on the trunk is to check to see if it’s open — there could be someone with a gun inside. I remember going to drive ins with two of us in the trunk. No weapons, of course. LOL

  4. Dave Swords
    Dave Swords says:

    Given your 2 AM scenario, here’s another option.

    Retreat to your cruiser, get out the shotgun, call for that back-up (if it’s 20 minutes away, it’s worth the wait) and, if you wish, get on the PA system and order all occupants out of the driver’s side, one at a time, hands visible, or better yet, just wait for that back-up.

    The most crucial element is that you are behind cover with your good friend and ally – Sudden Sam.

  5. GunDiva
    GunDiva says:

    Based on your hint…is she parked the way she is so that if some idiot rear-ends her, the car will angle away from her and the stopped car?

  6. SZ
    SZ says:

    I did not think about finger prints on the trunk. Clever
    Did think left hand as she is right handed.
    The car is pulled out for get away and maybe to stop a car from hitting her if they get to close.
    That said, shouldn’t she go to the passenger side for ultimate safety ?
    Looking at traffic further on for safety or maybe the route for if these people suddenly take off, what are the options ?

  7. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    The angling of the car and tires serves an important safety function. Remember, not all patrol cars are equipped with dash cams. The one in the photo did not have a camera.

  8. Jordan
    Jordan says:

    I’m going to also assume she angled the car so that the dashcamera will be able to clearly tape her, her actions, and anything that might happen to her. Otherwise, the camera would clearly show the back of the stopped car, but wouldn’t show her at all.

  9. GunDiva
    GunDiva says:

    Left hand on the trunk to feel if there’s anyone in there/movement.
    Right hand free because it’s her gun hand.
    Car angled for a quick “get away” should she need to pull out in traffic.

  10. Horatio Nimier
    Horatio Nimier says:

    Maybe her left hand is on the trunk so that if there’s any movement in the car that she can’t see she’ll be aware of it. Someone in the trunk, perhaps, or the surreptitious opening of a passenger-side door.

  11. Amy Denton
    Amy Denton says:

    She has angled the car out to provide a bit of protection from the traffic lane.
    She has her left hand on the car trunk so that, heaven forbid she’s killed, there will be evidence that she was there.
    She did not use her right hand so she can draw her weapon if she has to.
    She is checking out the traffic ahead to make sure there isn’t anyone crossing over the lane to hit her and the car. A Sheriff’s deputy was almost killed recently in my area when a drunk plowed into his car head on after he finished a traffic stop.

  12. Dave
    Dave says:

    The other reasons she has her left hand on the trunk are (1) to leave her fingerprints there so that, should the situation turn deadly for her, they would be evidence that that car and, by extension, its driver/owner was involved in her shooting and (2) it frees her right hand to draw her weapon should the need arise.

    She’s checking out the passing car because the people in that car could be accomplices to those in the car she stopped as part of a set up to kill her.

  13. Christopher Mitchell
    Christopher Mitchell says:

    The car is angled out for 3 reasons
    1) If the stopped car decides to take off, the officer is one step ahead in pursuit.
    2)The angle provides a bit of protection from the rear from oncoming traffic.
    3)If things go really wrong, the car is better suited to be used as a barricade.

    The officer is positioned slightly behind the driver’s window with her left hand on the trunk as a protective measure against assault. To use the right hand opens her core for attack. Secondly, in this position she can see all of the passengers and the underside of the dashboard and can react to any unusual movements. Also, she can spot oncoming traffic that could be crossing the centerline.

    Her one fault during this (and I assume you didn’t videotape the encounter), is she did not look to her rear briefly as she approached the car for anything strange. 360 degree awareness is vital. The last two police fatalities in my area were due to drunk drivers hitting officers from behind during stops.

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