We perform so many traffic stops that some people have labeled them as "routine." For those of us involved in law enforcement we know that there is no such thing as the "routine traffic stop." The names of well over 300 officers who have been killed while making a traffic stop are engraved on the gray granite walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Because traffic stops are so inherently dangerous, it is imperative that you have as many options in your "tactical toolbox" as possible when pulling over motorists. Remember, the people in the sedan that just made a rolling stop through a stop sign may be Mr. and Mrs. Model Citizen on their way home from church or a posse of gangbangers on their way to a drive-by.
Much debate has been given to the merits of two primary traffic stop tactics: the right side approach and the left side approach. But little attention has been given to a viable alternative: the call out.
First, let's discuss how the call out works and then we'll get into the advantages and disadvantages of this procedure. The call out stop is simply that, you call the person, whether operator or passenger, out of his vehicle and instruct him to walk back to your position or to another location on the side of the road while you remain next to your cruiser for cover.
The call out sounds simple enough, but as with any tactic, there are certain things you need to do and certain things you need to avoid doing when performing this stop.
First, use caution when calling people out of a vehicle. During a traffic stop, you are responsible for the safety of everyone during the stop, including the driver of the offending vehicle as well as any passengers. Take every available caution to ensure their safety.
After You Stop
Once you initiate the stop and the offending vehicle has pulled over, place your police cruiser in the left offset position. The left offset position is approximately 2 to 3 feet to the left lining up the center of the cruiser's hood with the left rear fender and 15 to 25 feet or one to one-and-a-half car lengths behind the offender's vehicle. A good rule of thumb to follow is to be far enough back to be able to see the offending vehicle's rear tires touching the pavement. This position allows the rear of your cruiser to absorb most low speed impacts from a rear-end collision while keeping the passenger compartment intact. It also provides a very important safety zone for the offender to use when walking back to you.
After placing your cruiser in the proper left offset position, unlock your passenger door, quickly check for traffic, and exit the vehicle. You want to be the first one out on your feet at any traffic stop. This gives you the tactical advantage should you come under attack and have to react. Once you exit your cruiser, stand by its driver-side door for a couple of seconds to ensure the offending vehicle's occupants are not exiting. If someone tries to exit the vehicle, you can either order them back into the vehicle or over to the side of the road where you can keep an eye on them.
If no one exits the vehicle, move around the back of your cruiser to the front passenger-side door. During a night stop, "duck down" when passing the overhead lights so that your movements will go undetected. You can call someone out from the driver's side of your cruiser but it's better to do it from the passenger side should you come under attack and be forced to move to cover.
When you reach your passenger side door, open the door and retrieve the public address (PA) microphone. Using the PA system, instruct the operator of the offending vehicle to turn off his or her ignition. The last thing you want to see is the violator's vehicle go rolling down the street because this rocket scientist forgot to put it in park before he stepped out of the car. Believe me, it happens.
Once the vehicle has been turned off, instruct the violator to exit his vehicle and walk back to your location. This isn't a high-risk stop, so there's no need to have the driver turn around and walk backward to your location. However, you do want the driver to walk slowly enough that you can perform a visual frisk for any suspicious bulges that may indicate the presence of a weapon or to read any threatening body language.
Issuing the Ticket
As the subject gets closer, put the PA system down and use your voice for any further instructions. This will be calming to the driver, but it's really to your advantage. If there are any passengers in the vehicle, they won't be able to hear what's going on.
From here there are two tactics you can use. One is to have the subject walk over to the curb or shoulder of the road. Or you can have the subject walk to the center of your hood. This allows you to hold your position and use the front of your vehicle as a barrier.
Another advantage that you have in this position is that the bright lights from your overheads, wigwags, and takedown lights will make it difficult for the subject to focus on you, even in daylight. If the stop is occurring at night, the lights will ruin the driver's night vision and make you difficult to see in the shadows at the side of the cruiser. Between two vehicles is a dangerous place to be; so be cautious and use your common sense when deploying this tactic.
When additional paperwork is needed from the violator's vehicle, you have several options. You can retrieve the paperwork yourself or when passengers are present have one of them produce it. The driver should be escorted back to the vehicle and advised to stand at the rear or at the front of the vehicle, so you can keep tabs on him or her while you watch the passengers as they retrieve any necessary paperwork. If the driver is alone, you have the option of going back to the vehicle with the driver to get the paperwork. Extreme caution should be used here, and the driver should not be allowed to get back into the vehicle.
After you've obtained the necessary paperwork and have decided to write a citation, have the violator stand at the rear of his or her vehicle as you write the citation. Your cruiser's lights will partially blind and disorient the subject even in daylight, and you will be able to observe his or her movements while filling out the citation.
Under no circumstances should you ever let the driver back into the vehicle until you are ready to dismiss him. If there is a weapon in the vehicle you have placed the subject back with the weapon. Also, by keeping him out of the vehicle you are isolating him from the other passengers and preventing them from forming any joint plan of attack or concocting an alibi or story.[PAGEBREAK]
Now that we've discussed the mechanics of the call out, let's talk about its benefits. This is a great tactic to use on larger vehicles such as vans and SUVs, and for vehicles with tinted windows. Rather than approaching the vehicle blindly, have the operator step out of the vehicle and come to you.
The same is true of vehicles that contain multiple subjects. Why walk up on a carload of individuals when you can have the person you want walk back to you? You may not have the justification for a high-risk stop, but the last thing you want to do is walk up to a carload of possible gang members in the middle of the night.
The call out is also a good tactic to use when the offender exits his vehicle and starts walking back to your location. Those of you working drug interdiction have seen this maneuver a thousand times before. The offender exits the vehicle to distance herself from the vehicle or to keep you away from it in an attempt to prevent you from picking up on any contraband indicators. Little does she know that she's playing right into your hand.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of the call out is that it's unexpected. Motorists do not expect to be called out of their vehicles by traffic officers and it takes people by surprise.
The element of surprise always works to your advantage. If the subject had a plan to attack you when you approached the vehicle, he is now forced to rethink or abandon it. The same is true if the subject had a plan to exit his vehicle and attack you.
Ordering the subject out of his car also gives you a heads up on whether he will be compliant. If the subject ignores your commands to step to the curb, it's a good indicator of where this stop is going. Even if he obeys, you can read the subject's body language as he approaches and look for any aggressive behavior and conduct a visual frisk for any suspicious bulges that may indicate a weapon. The suspect's hands are also visible for inspection as he walks back to your location.
By performing the call out, you are less distracted and less vulnerable to passing traffic. Should a fight ensue it is always better to be fighting with some drunk on the side of the road than it is to be battling it out in the middle of a four-lane highway as vehicles go roaring by you at high speeds.
The advantages to the call out are many. I've just listed a few here to show you that this is a viable alternative to the traditional left-side or right-side approaches. The call out is just one more option to put into our "tactical toolbox" to keep us safe on the streets.
Do we need such options in our tactical toolbox? Considering that Ted Bundy, Timothy McVeigh, and three of the 9/11 terrorists are just a few of the people who police have encountered at "routine" traffic stops, you bet we do.
Is it Legal?
Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U. S. 106 (1977) gives you the authority to order the driver out of the vehicle while Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U. S. 408 (1997) gives you the authority to order any passengers out of the vehicle.
Executing the Call Out
The idea behind the call out is to ensure your safety, as well as the safety of the traffic violator.
√ Place your cruiser in the left offset position.
√ Unlock your passenger door.
√ Exit your car.
√ Stand by your car for a moment to make sure the occupants of the vehicle you pulled are not exiting.
√ If they try to get out, order them back in.
√ If no one gets out of the violator car, walk around the back of your cruiser to the passenger side.
√ Use your PA to call the driver out of his or her car.
√ Order the driver to walk back to your position.
√ Visually "frisk" the approaching driver for weapons.
√ When the driver is close enough to hear you, put down the PA and speak normally.
√ If additional paperwork is needed from the subject's car. Order a passenger to bring it to you. When no passengers are in the car, go back with the driver to get the paperwork. Don't let the driver get back into the car.
√ Issue the ticket or warning.
√ Dismiss the driver following proper safety protocol.
Michael T. Rayburn is a 25-year veteran of law enforcement and a senior patrolman with the Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) Police Department. He is the author of "Advanced Vehicle Stop Tactics," available from Looseleaf Law Publications (www.looseleaflaw.com).