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March 27, 2014

Documenting Force: Traffic Stop Details

Traffic stops are one of many dangerous tasks performed by law enforcement professionals every day. According to annual FBI Law Enforcement Officer Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) reports, officers frequently encounter drunk drivers, illegal drugs, firearms, and wanted persons, to name a few. Moreover, traffic stop locations and other conditions can significantly increase the level of danger, especially when offenders resist. If force is used to control offenders during traffic stops, effective report narratives include the following details when relevant.

  • time
  • weather
  • speed limit
  • road type (i.e., I-40; HWY)
  • distance from other moving vehicles

Report Example 1
The traffic stop was at 8:30 a.m. on NC Route 26, an undivided, two-lane state road with a 55 MPH speed limit. While handcuffing [NAME] between my patrol car and his [MAKE & MODEL], [NAME] began pulling away. Motorists were driving by in both directions 10-15 feet away. Steady rain decreased driver visibility and wet pavement increased vehicle stopping distances.

Report Example 2
The traffic stop was at 10:00 p.m. on I-40, a divided three lane interstate with a 70 MPH speed limit. While handcuffing [NAME] in front of his Chevy Tahoe SUV, he abruptly turned around, grabbed my right forearm, and pushed me backwards. Vehicles of all sizes (cars, trucks, tractor-trailers, etc.) were traveling less than 10 feet away. Darkness had decreased visibility and the size of [NAME’s] Tahoe was an obstruction for oncoming drivers.      

In both examples, the event could suddenly enter the path of oncoming drivers without warning. This could reasonably cause unnecessary injury or death to offenders, officers, AND innocent third persons. Therefore, it is critical for officers to control offender resistance as quickly as possible.

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March 17, 2014

Opelika PD Chief supports officer who used deadly force

Opelika-Auburn News

Following a March 6 officer-involved shooting, Opelika Police Chief John McEachern stated he and his department “fully support” Officer Phillip Hancock’s use of deadly force. Hancock, McEachern said, acted "within departmental guidelines."

At about 7:15 p.m., Hancock responded to calls regarding reckless driving along Interstate 85 reagarding an SUV driven by Airman Michael Davidson, 20, of Texas. Before Hancock arrived, Davidson sideswiped an 18-wheeler. The two vehicles pulled to the right side of the road. Hancock pulled over behind Davidson's vehicle.

Hancock and Davidson exited their vehicles at the same time. Hancock instructed Davidson twice to put his hands in the air, according to police. Hancock then fired two shots, one of which struck Davidson in the stomach.

Backup and medical personnel were called and arrived on the scene in six minutes. Davidson was treated and transported to East Alabama Medical Center, where he underwent surgery.

Davidson's family has not released information regarding his condition since Thursday. At that time, Davidson was recovering from his injury. He will have to wear a colonoscopy pack for an unspecified amount of time, according to his family.

The Opelika Police Department has an eight-page policy on the use of force, effective November 1999, which McEachern said “every officer is cognizant of.”

The Use of Force policy includes protocol regarding both deadly and non-deadly force, as well as examples of unjustified force. Deadly force is defined as any use of force likely to cause death or serious physical injury and is not limited to firearms. The policy states: 

In vesting police officers with the lawful authority to use force to protect the public welfare, a careful balancing of all human interests is required. Police officers shall use only the force that is reasonably necessary to effectively bring an incident under control, while protecting the lives of the officer and another.

Officers are authorized to use deadly force if they perceive what is reasonably believed to be an immediate threat of death, or serious physical injury. Deadly force is also authorized to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon who is believed to pose a significant threat to human life.
Officers are prohibited from firing warning shots.

The policy also cites a Use of Force Continuum, a conceptual model used throughout law enforcement that depicts the relationship between a suspect’s level of resistance and the officer’s level of force. The level of force used increases and decreases depending on the suspect’s level of resistance to apprehension, beginning with cooperative and extending to deadly resistive.

According to the National Institute of Justice, this continuum generally has many levels, and officers are instructed to respond with a level of force appropriate to the situation at hand, acknowledging that the officer may move from one part of the continuum to another in a matter of seconds.

In addition to departmental policies regarding use of force, officers also receive extensive firearms training.

"As mandated by Alabama state law, all sworn officers must receive mandatory training as spelled out by the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, APOST. Every officer receives a total of 480 hours of training while at the Police Academy and additional yearly training hours as mandated,” McEachern said Friday.

APOST curriculum denotes a total of 47 hours of training specific to firearms. The curriculum includes 520 hours of requisite training.

Following use of deadly force that causes death or serious injury, the officer is placed on administrative leave, per OPD’s use of force policy. The officer is to remain on administrative leave until it is determined by the chief of police the officer is ready to return to duty.

All uses of force are subject to legal and/or administrative review, the policy reads. Not all circumstances will permit the retention of an officer who has used force improperly, regardless of intent.

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