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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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