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Traffic stops are high risk for the police officers performing the stops. This is due to the unpredictable situation in the vehicle as well as outside factors like traffic, weather and road conditions. It is important for police officers to remain professional during a traffic stop while also being able to make split-second decisions if something goes wrong. Five basic steps should be followed for each stop.
The officer needs to be mentally and physically prepared for the stop. Mentally, the officer needs to be calm yet prepared for anything, leaving prejudices and personal opinions at home. Deciding the best and safest place to stop the vehicle as well as deciding if calling for back-up at this stage of the stop is necessary. Physically, the officer needs to be fit and healthy. The increase in anxiety when making a traffic stop involves higher blood pressure and increased heart rate. The goal is to remain calm while being on guard.
Communicate with the dispatcher before the stop, letting him know where you are and what you are stopping the vehicle for. The officer will give the dispatcher information about the vehicle, license plate number, make and model of the vehicle and general description of the occupants. The dispatcher will then be able to give the officer valuable information about the vehicle and the possible occupants. This will help the officer when conducting the stop to be safe.
When a safe place for the stop has been established, the emergency lights should be turned on as well as the flashing headlights. If the driver is unresponsive, the horn and siren should be used to get his attention. Once the vehicle has pulled over, the emergency lights should remain on for safety. The high beam headlights should be turned on if it is dark out. The police vehicle should be left running, in park with the emergency brake on for safety, in case a pursuit is necessary.
At this time, the officer will approach the stopped vehicle on the driver's side. The officer should be very alert, making note of any suspicious activity inside and outside the vehicle. Occupants appearing to hide items in the car or an expired license plate tag are good examples of what to watch for. Officers are encouraged to “print” the stopped vehicle by leaving a hand print on the trunk lid as a way to identify it if the driver flees or the officer is hurt or killed during the stop. The officer should be in a safe position at the drivers door. The officer introduces himself and explains why the vehicle was stopped. The officer asks the driver for his license, vehicle registration and insurance card. The officer should then go back to the police vehicle to check the identification with the dispatcher and write any citations that are being issued.
The officer will return all identification to the driver and issue the citation, explaining any details the driver will need to know. The stopped vehicle should always leave first and the emergency lights should remain on until the officer is ready to re-enter the roadway.