What is a more rudimentary or distasteful (to some) task than traffic control? If you want to watch an officer nosedive in volunteering for anything else, put out a request for directing traffic; they would rather slay zombies. Yet, this mundane task can be one of the most dangerous as well.
Most police academies provide a block of instruction on traffic control that includes slide after slide of how to stand, hand signal, blow the whistle, and gesture to move traffic. For extra excitement, you'll learn a few state motoring laws. That said, few academies give a performance exam that puts you in the middle of the tarmac where motorists coming into your intersection patiently await your proper gesture.
Fact of the matter is most academies show the presentation and tell you your Field Training Officer (FTO) will properly instruct you. The reality is your FTO will wheel into a crash scene, check for injuries, and tell you to handle traffic. Here lies the problem — no real instruction, and please be mindful of your hand gestures.
Most of us who transitioned from the Military Police Corps (Hooah!) had intensive "TCP" (traffic control point) instruction. Traffic details are an integral part of being an MP. You need a good instructor for this topic, so find an MP in your ranks.
This can be dangerous because you're often in a 360-degree environment and you trust that all motorists are competent and attentive to the process of driving. OK, let's throw in a cell phone talker, smartphone texter, someone with rowdy kids, and maybe a drunk or two. Now, you've got TCP on steroids!
You have got to have all your cards stacked to win at this game. Make sure you're squared away on these items before hopping into the traffic crosshairs:
Ballistic vest — There have been countless saves of officers wearing vests who were struck by vehicles or items hanging from vehicles. Wear your vest.
ANSI High-visibility vest — It may look Euro to some and non-tactical to others. To be seen is to survive, so wear the darned thing!
Flashlight or traffic direction wand — Carry it with you.
Whistle — It's traditional, but whistles are ideal for moving pedestrians and create more decibels than the average cop's yelling.
For those wearing radio earpieces, take heed. You need all of your hearing to listen for impending dangers.
Your hand and arm gestures should be deliberate and understood. Steady (and not too slow) motions move traffic. The faster you move, the more agitated you can make a motorist. Don't take their inability to understand you personally; some drivers are not accustomed to human directions.
I once had a precinct commander call me and ask if there was a traffic control point that needed to be covered. At the time there wasn't, but soon enough there was a crash with a pole to be replaced.
The captain showed up with an officer in a new uniform and fresh haircut. I asked who was this new guy; he was not new but a reassigned officer. This lad had gotten rotated out of an undercover drug assignment and back to uniform land. The captain told me the new patrol assignment was not getting used to being back in the world of patrol. He thought there would be nothing better to reset his mind to that of a cop than to direct traffic.
I sat and watched. At first the officer didn't like it, but in a few minutes he was back in the flow. Directing traffic is a traditional and infrequently performed task. It's old school police work, but it is satisfying to get the job done, move traffic, and walk off the pavement knowing you have done the task.
William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.View Bio