The lesson in question we were discussing involved traffic stops, particularly at night. We had a younger recruit officer who was having trouble with all the different steps involved, and his training officer was getting a bit frustrated in trying to smooth things out. So a couple of us got together and started talking things out & helped him realize exactly the number of things involved in just pulling the car over:
- You have to be driving normally and safely in the first place, watching out for other traffic, lights etc. - and keep in mind, you are still driving throughout this whole process, accountable for your actions and safety, and pretty much needing an extra pair of hands to really be effective!
- Pay attention to the radio.
- Be aware of what else is going on in your area - other calls for service, officers on stops nearby, critical incidents which may have the radio tied up etc.
- Observe the violation - be it a light out, some traffic violation, a possible drunk driver, vehicle matching some suspect description or whatever.
- Decide to make your stop, possibly running the vehicle information as you prepare to do so, and all the while still watching them as much as possible.
- Get in a good position behind the vehicle, watching for them to notice you and possibly try to run, hide or throw illegal items, produce weapons, change drivers (yes, it does happen while moving!) or anything else.
- Choose a safe location to stop.
- Call in the stop, letting radio know your unit number, what plate it is and where you are, possibly how many people are in the car, along with any other special information.
- Activate your emergency lights and takedown lights, both letting them know you are stopping them and illuminating the inside of the vehicle.
- Continue to watch the vehicle, being prepared to pursue if needed or safely moving to the side of the road with them when they stop.
- Position your car behind theirs, cant your wheels for some protection, and letting the radio know if the location has significantly changed or there is something more suspicious or you need backup cars.
- Put your car in park (and trust me EVERY cop has forgotten to do this at least once!), put your hat on, get your flashlight in your off hand and step out of your car still watching the violator...
As you can see, it's a lot to do and to keep in mind in a very short span - and this is just the part of stopping the car, you haven't even gotten up to it and talked with anyone yet. Factor in that you do similar things and processes for most of what we do & it becomes even more daunting. Then you add the stress of a field training officer watching your every move, noting what is good and bad, and all the effort you put into getting through the academy hinging on their evaluations. It's easy to understand why some people get overwhelmed with just this little bit & have a hard time with things - the constant pressure and need to do so many things at once is just one of the reasons the job isn't for everyone.
Hopefully this gives the non-cops just a small picture into another part of our world. For those of you with friends or family on the job I would encourage you as well to do a ride along in order to grasp even more.