We’ve all felt it: the pulse-stopping, sweat-inducing sight of red-and-blue flashing in your rearview mirror. But if you think an officer walking up to the side of your car is rough, imagine what it’s like to be on the other side.
Ask any officer and they’ll tell you the same thing: No traffic stop is routine. A hundred things can go wrong for an officer performing a traffic stop. They have to be on-guard at all times, constantly searching for hidden dangers, all the while being aware of their surroundings.
“Don’t ignore your gut,” said Officer Brian Columbino, who took me on a ride-along during his patrol. “Sometimes you just get a bad feeling… You’d be surprised how often your gut is right.” As soon as Columbino and officers like him stop a car, they’re immediately looking for signs of trouble.
The most important thing is hands. Always look for the hands because, as several officers stated: “hands will kill you.”
We realized the truth of that statement during our patrol training.
During this training, the Academy went to the water department garage, where officers set up a simulation traffic stop. While participants pretending to be officers waited in the squad car, the real officers would give our “subjects” a scenario to spring when approached.
The scenarios could be anything from the subject pulling a gun (fake, of course), to just opening the door and running away.
More than a few of us jumped as those in the car suddenly produced handguns, or opened the door suddenly as we stood in its path. And there was definitely egg on the faces of some after failing to notice a gun sitting openly on the dashboard or in the driver’s lap.
Though entertaining for us in the simulation, many of these situations are a reality that could and have happened to many officers in the field.
Officers have been shot as they approached, hit by passing cars, and attacked by crazed drunk-drivers.
Every time an officer switches on their lights, whether for a “routine” traffic violation or for a suspicious vehicle, they have to be ready for anything—even if that means risking their lives.