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Police and Law Enforcement Home  >  The Column  >  Tactics - Putting Productivity Over Safety

The Column

Police and Law Enforcement News
Thursday, March 7, 2013
  8:07 a.m.


The call for increased motor vehicle enforcement has never been greater.  The reason depends on the agency.

In some locales, the push is to compensate for the 10% to 20% reduction of manpower that has played out over the past several years.  The do-more-with-less mantra rings out each day.

In other places, the push is to combat crime numbers which, in some areas, have been creeping higher.  Heavy motor vehicle enforcement has been proven to be an effective crime fighting tool.

And in other areas, the call comes not from the large office down the hall, but from the building down the street where elected officials are scrambling for revenue sources to pay the mounting bills.

Whatever the reason, motor vehicle enforcement also saves lives. 

And, it's part of our job.

But as the push for more tickets becomes greater, so does the pressure to increase the amount of stops made during a shift. 

And this is where it can become a problem.

Officers begin seeing violations as quick stats for the month, and they look beyond the inherent risks of stopping cars.  They look past the wanted persons, they look past plain view, and they look past the danger signs.

Every spotted violation becomes another stat to keep the bosses at bay. The ticket becomes the focal point of the stop at the expense of officer safety.

We've all been guilty of missing something at some point in our career, but it can become an epidemic when the call for safety is replaced by the call for numbers.

Motor vehicle stops continue to be and will always be a very dangerous part of law enforcement.  In 2011, scores of officers were injured during motor vehicle stops, and we lost approximately one officer each month to felonious assault during car stops. 

And the number of deaths and injuries go much higher if you include those instances where officers were struck by cars. 

Besides missing danger signs, some other common mistakes which result from rushed stops include:

  • Failing to choose a tactically advantageous location for the stop   
  • Pulling up too close to the stopped car
  • Failing to properly angle the patrol car where applicable
  • Failing to call out the stop
  • Missing suspicious movement by one of the occupants
  • Not taking the time to use a passenger side approach where advisable
  • Failing to pay attention to traffic
  • Not looking up periodically while completing the summons      
  • Failure to run the driver and/or vehicle for wants/warrants
  • Failure to properly apply or even use available lighting (Night Stops)

As bad as the tactical mistakes can be, the largest problem with rushed, assembly line motor vehicle stops has to due with state of mind.

When an officer makes a stop, he or she needs to be mentally and physically prepared for combat.  If it is an unmotivated Sunday dayshift, and you're just going through the motions to grab a few numbers, you're setting yourself up for disaster.  A motor vehicle stop on a Sunday day shift is no less dangerous than a motor vehicle stop on Friday night and vice versa.

Bottom line, if you’re not mentally and physically prepared for a driver who immediately comes out of the car with a gun and charges your vehicle while opening fire, you shouldn’t be making the stop. 

Let’s face it: sometimes we come to work, and we're not in the state of mind for combat.  Yes, we have to quickly turn that around if we're sent to a hot call, but should we go looking for trouble?

We still have to do our job, and that includes making stops.  But safety must always trump numbers.

This job is like no other.  When we start losing sight of this and begin treating a shift as just another day at the office, we're are going to get ourselves or someone else hurt.

Safety has to come before all else.

Be safe.








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