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Principles to Live by While Conducting a Traffic Stop, Part One

Principles to Live by While Conducting a Traffic Stop, Part One


Rather it’s your 20th year as an officer or your first day on the job, there is one vital aspect every patrolman, deputy, ranger, and state patrolman must never neglect, the traffic stop. The traffic stop is statistically one of the most dangerous activities a peace officer will ever have to conduct.

The second you activate your light bar, you’ve made yourself a target. Every time you put that uniform on, you’re a target. It doesn’t matter if you’re a deadeye marksman, have the fastest run time of the yearly PT test, or have the best duty gear, traffic stops require adaptive intelligence, meaning you must use your training yet stay in the now to maintain a tactical edge. In today’s article, we will go over a few tips every officer can add to their arsenal. Remember, no two stops are ever the same.




  1. Immediately Strategize Before Initiating the Stop

The second you observe the traffic violation, you need to start planning your strategy. Here are a few tactical considerations to help keep you safe.


  • Think about your probable cause, why did you have a reasonable suspicion to pull the subject over?


  • Look for signs that the subject is destroying evidence, planning an attack, preparing to flee, or concealing weapons or evidence.



  • If possible, choose a well-lit, tactically sound area before initiating the stop.



  1. The Approach

The approach to a subject’s vehicle is one of the most crucial moments during the entire traffic stop. This is when the training pays off. Check out my list of approach tactics below.


  • The second your vehicles stop, be sure to inform dispatch of the subject’s vehicle and your location. This is crucial because backup will already be aware of your position. When the other officers on my shift would initiate a traffic stop, I would head their way and orbit the block just in case backup was needed.


  • Use tactically sound approach tactics. Your approach should minimize your exposure to hazards, such as taking advantage of blind spots, staying out of the area between the two vehicles, choosing a passenger side approach, and so on. You’re only limited by your imagination here. Make sure you mix up your tactics, don’t get complacent.


  • Watch the hands! I remember when I was at the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy, during Stops and Approaches class, I distinctly remember to this day what the instructor said: “It’s the hands that kill us.” Always watch the hands, don’t reach into the car. Put the subject at a tactical disadvantage by utilizing angles which make grabbing and pointing weapons directly at you difficult.



These two steps are some of the most important, dangerous moments a police officer will ever have to face. You’re entering their kill zone, so you must exercise caution and sound tactical decision making. In the second part of Principles to Live by, we will discuss the dangers and tactics of the second approach and how you can use time to your advantage. Use sound judgment, breathe,  and most importantly, STAY SAFE AND ENJOY IT!!




This article was co-written by Tim Sholtz a fellow officer. 

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