Police Officer Stopping The Vehicle

Strengthening The Citizen and Law Enforcement Partnership at The Traffic Stop:
Professionalism is a Two-Way Street




Part I: Practices for Traffic Law Enforcement Officers

Blue BulletDuring Typical Stops
Blue BulletSpecial Conditions
Blue BulletConfrontational Drivers
Blue BulletDuring Suspicious or Felonious Stops
Blue BulletConclusion

Part II: Practices for Drivers

Blue BulletWhy Officers Conduct
Blue BulletTraffic Stops Are Dangerous

Blue BulletWhat Can You Do?



Part I: Practices for Traffic Law Enforcement Officers

There are three primary purposes for every traffic stop: The first purpose is to stop a violation of the law for public safety. Officers will accomplish this purpose merely by stopping the vehicle. The second purpose of the stop is to serve as a general deterrent to other drivers. Officer’s visible presence with a vehicle at the roadside has this symbolic effect on other drivers. Finally, the third purpose is to change the driver’s future driving behavior. Officers’ interaction with drivers during the stop will be a major determining factor in their attitude toward law enforcement in the future. The goal is to achieve voluntary compliance with traffic regulations, but also acceptance of the laws and enforcement. People are more apt to accept a new or modified behavior if they trust and respect the authority. This is why professionalism is so important at the traffic stop.

In addition, there are other implications of a traffic stop. For example, the stop may detect possible evidence of a more serious offense. In most cases, this can be done by casual observation and questioning, without causing offense. Also, traffic stop encounters can enhance the public relations and image of the law enforcement agency. Officers need to help maintain the credibility of the law enforcement agency and to minimize the number of complaints. At many agencies, more complaints may generate from traffic stops than from any other form of citizen contact. Officers need to be courteous, balanced and professional in each of the above categories.

Many officers often get a thank you from drivers they stop, even when a citation is issued. However, officers can provoke a confrontation by their mannerisms. Most citizen complaints come from traffic stops and usually involve the allegation of officer rudeness. Officers should not respond to threats to their egos or get "hung out on a limb" with nowhere to go except to escalate a disagreement. Officers should not be rude under the guise of officer control or officer safety. Being professional means possessing great skill to remain in control.

Although most officers have their own way of being professional at traffic stops, some of the following techniques might be considered.