The Influence of Officer Positioning on Movement during a Threatening Traffic Stop Scenario

Law Enforcement Executive Forum

The Law Enforcement Executive Forum

Authors: William J. Lewinski, Jennifer L. Dysterheft, Dawn A. Seefeldt, & Robert W. Pettitt

Conducting traffic stops is a routine patrol duty of police officers. The most frequent and visible interactions between police officers and the public take place in motor vehicles, most commonly at roadside traffic stops (Eith & Durose, 2011; Harris, 1989; Pinizzotto, Davis, & Miller, 2008). Officers successfully complete the majority of “routine” traffic stops without facing the threat of injury; however, traffic stops can place officers at risk of injury or death either by intended or unintended actions by an assailant or others (Payton, 1964). According to the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (2005), traffic stops “can be one of the most dangerous duties a patrol officer can perform” (p. 1-3). In a study investigating officer attacks while performing routine traffic stops, one officer reported that as he approached the back door of the vehicle and informed the driver he was stopped for speeding, the driver’s only response was “two shots in the chest from a handgun . . . into my vest” (Pinizzotto et al., 2008). From 2001 to 2010, approximately 60 of 541 officers who were feloniously murdered in the line of duty were killed during a traffic stop, and 55,000 were injured during a traffic stop or pursuit (Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], 2010; U.S. Department of Justice, 2011).

Although many departments have added various adaptations to traffic stops, these tac- tics, created by some of the best tactical officers in the United States, were not developed from scientific research. As noted by Justice Scalia, there is a paucity of research on officer safety in relation to the dangerousness of traffic stops (Maryland v. Wilson, 1997). This article is an effort to form discussions on the current research involving officer traffic stop procedures.

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