- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Traffic stops. If any part of a police officer's job can be called routine, it's pulling over motorists for a faulty taillight, unsafe start or excess lead in their foot. The reasons an officer has for initiating a traffic stop are many and while nearly every encounter between patrolman and driver ends with nothing more serious than a citation, the truth is that every traffic stop poses risks. Local officers learned skills this summer that lessen those dangers.
"The goal every police officer should have is to make safe, effective traffic stops that minimize the dangers to them and others" Patrolman Derrick Lawalin told officers this summer while teaching a program called Strategies and Tactics of Patrol Stops, better known by the acronym STOPS. Lawalin became a certified trainer during a program in June at the state law enforcement academy and led full-time, part-time and volunteer reserve officers through classroom instruction and hands-on practice.
Hoosier police officers are required to pass a refresher course on traffic stops each year, just as they are with self-defense and firearms.
New officers learn the basics of making traffic stops while attending the training academy during their first year of employment. However, regular refresher lessons such as those offered by Lawalin hone those skills and share updates to recommended procedures that change from time to time and can vary from department to department.
There's more to making traffic stops than activating a police car's red and blue lights, Lawalin said. Officers have to make a range of important decisions about when and where to initiate stops and then assessing the situation based on the reason for the stop and the actions of the driver and any passengers.
"Every traffic stop poses unknowns," Lawalin said. A speeder might be drunk or high on drugs and could suddenly become belligerent, engage officers in a fight or pull a gun, knife or other weapon. While traffic stops are designed to promote safety on roadways, they can also trigger accidents. Each year, police officers are struck, injured or killed by oncoming vehicles. The STOPS course instructs officers about how to position their vehicles and detect clues that a fidgeting motorist or passenger might pose a danger to officers.
The course also gives officers the skills to handle the complaints that come with traffic stops and citations. Patrolmen are taught to avoid arguments with motorists upset about being pulled over and to readily provide information, such as their name, badge number and contact information for supervisors when asked.
"We call it verbal judo. It's about staying focused on the traffic stop, always being professional and communicating in ways that make the use of force less likely," Lawalin said.
The classroom portion of the training was followed by hands-on practice in the parking lot of William Tell Elementary School. Officers faced several scenarios, with volunteer motorists playing the roles of upset motorists and others who refused to comply with verbal orders or who had mock handguns hidden under seats or in waistbands.
Officers rehearsed the steps they take when making high-risk stops of suspects known to be carrying weapons or who are believed to have committed a violent crime. The STOPS course teaches officers how to react when confronted with those threats and how to communicate with other officers.
Some police officers work years without having to draw their weapons during a traffic stop, Lawalin said. "But everyone knows the unexpected can happen. We train to react."