Looking Beyond The Ticket--Traffic Law Enforcement And Beyond


What makes an officer successful at "looking beyond the ticket"?

Once perceptual, educational, statistical, and marketing challenges have been considered, the remaining element for successful "looking beyond the ticket" efforts relates to individual officer techniques.

More than 100 interviews with participating officers identified the following key elements to their individual enforcement success.


Law enforcement officers identified twenty-three training areas that helped them "look beyond the ticket." When analyzed by topic, the most frequently identified areas of training were:

  • aggressive patrol/interdiction,
  • interview and interrogation,
  • gang awareness,
  • human behavior/body language,
  • officer safety/defensive tactics,
  • drug recognition/impaired driver detection, and
  • search and seizure procedures.

The training needed to become successful at "looking beyond the ticket" is the same training necessary to succeed in other policing functions. Investing in training to help officers attain the skills necessary to "look beyond the ticket" also can help to develop professional and effective law enforcement officers.

Field Training

Practical application of skills learned is an important element of success. Ninety percent of the officers interviewed identified the field training officer as the most significant influence on their patrol techniques. Proactive patrol techniques demonstrated by field training officers were passed on to 55 percent of the respondents. Field training officers who did not demonstrate proactive patrol techniques influenced 26 percent of the respondents to be more proactive. The remaining 19 percent did not have field training officers as role models, and developed their patrol techniques individually.

Proactive Patrol

Proactive patrol, for the purposes of this document, means frequently stopping vehicles for observed violations to issue citations and check for stolen vehicles and wanted subjects. In June 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that "a stop is constitutional as long as there is probable cause (to believe) that a traffic violation has occurred." Whren v. United States.

Many officers interviewed believe a proactive approach is the most effective enforcement method because:

  • it has more impact on traffic related problems and encourages compliance with traffic laws,
  • it is highly visible and provides criminal deterrence,
  • it is effective because the "bad guy" probably looks just like the "good guy," and
  • the techniques defined their work ethic: proactive, fair, and meaningful.

"Gut feelings"

Many officers identified "gut feelings" or a "sixth sense" as an important element to their success. When asked to describe what triggered their "gut feeling," human behavior and actions were referenced as the most common stimuli. Examples given include:

  • furtive movements, unnatural reaching movements,
  • lack of eye contact, and
  • extreme nervousness ( beyond the normal reaction to police presence).

Whether occurring prior to or after the stop, many stimuli were similar. However, some of these stimuli are specific to when they occurred. For example:

Prior to the stop (listed in order from most frequently observed):

  • furtive movements,
  • failure to stop immediately when emergency lights are activated,
  • nervous behavior, and
  • occupants will not look at the patrol vehicle; "if I do not see the officer, the officer will not see me."

After the stop

  • extreme nervousness,
  • increased nervousness with simple questions,
  • furtive movements,
  • conflicting statements,
  • gets out of the vehicle to meet the officer,
  • odors and plain-view observations,
  • being too polite and accepting, and
  • giving false identification.


Participating officers identified support from peers, command, the community, and the media as essential elements of their success. Some suggestions offered by the officers include:

  • peers and supervisory officers should be made aware of the contribution traffic enforcement efforts have on reducing crime and traffic crashes;
  • positive reinforcement and recognition of traffic enforcement and "looking beyond the ticket" efforts encourage positive behavior; and
  • the community and the media should be informed about the realities of traffic crashes and crime.

Improved internal (within the law enforcement community) and external (community at large) marketing of proactive traffic law enforcement will increase peer and public recognition and support.

In summary, at a time when motor vehicle crashes continue to claim thousands of lives each year, aggressive drivers are blatantly acting out their frustrations on other drivers, drivers are increasingly getting behind the wheel impaired by alcohol and other drugs, and citizens are fearful of permitting their children to play outside ­ proactive traffic enforcement combined with "looking beyond the ticket" may be one of the solutions law enforcement agencies are looking for to help take them into the 21st century.


1. Uniform Crime Reports, Crime in the United States 1995, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., October 1996.

2. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Criminal Victimization in the United States 1993, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., May 1996.

3. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1994, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts 1996, U.S. Department of Transportation, DOT HS 808 471, September 1997.

5. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, The Economic Cost of Motor Vehicle Crashes 1994, U.S. Department of Transportation, DOT HS 808 425, July 1996.

6. Karchmer, C. Police Traffic Services in the Twenty-First Century, Survey Results and Issue Papers. Police Executive Research Forum, September 1996.

7. The Traffic Institute Northwestern University, Effect of Traffic Enforcement on Crime, National Highway Traffic Administration, March 1993.

8. Wilson, J. and Boland, B. The Effect of the Police on Crime, U.S. Department of Justice, November 1979.

9. Hannigan, M. J. Crime, Traffic, and Regional Policing, California Highway Patrol, January 1995.

10. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Enforcement War on Crime, U.S. Department of Transportation, DOT HS 808 284, July 1995.

11. Sweeney, E. Traffic Enforcement: New Uses for an Old Tool, The Police Chief, July 1996.

12. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety and Crime Keeping Pace, U.S. Department of Transportation, DOT HS 808 367, June, 1996.  

Contents | Looking Beyond the Ticket: Traffic Law Enforcement and Beyond | Benefits |  Challenges |  Perceptions | Crime/Crash Clock 1996 |  The Facts | Education | Elements of Success | References