Breaking Contact – to walk back to your patrol car to run wants/warrant checks and draft citations; to walk back to your patrol car at the end of the traffic stop
Traffic stops consist of three phases, the start, middle and the end. Moving beyond those headers, they breakdown as follows:
- Identify or observe Probable Cause or Reasonable suspicion
- Make the Stop
- Breaking Contact
-Arrest if necessary
- Breaking Contact (Final)
-Going back to the patrol car
- Clear the Scene
The second most hazardous time for an officer on a traffic stop is when they re-approach the driver after having broken contact to run wants and warrants and draft citations; the first most hazardous time being their initial approach. Why, is this so hazardous, well because often, officers become complacent and lower their guard on their secondary approach. They forget that what they initially cleared needs to again be cleared in the same manner as they did on their initial approach.
So the question here is: why do we break contact? Think about it, if you are out on a subject check, do you normally go back to your car to run the want and warrant check or to write down the subject information? No, you place them at a disadvantage, and document and run your wants and warrant check from a position of overwatch and control.
So then why break contact on a traffic stop to do the same thing? Well the best answer is basically because that is the way that it has always been done. Yes, some will say that there is a hazard to remain, but unlike the subject check, you are separated by a physical barrier (a reactionary gap), which is the car door.
And, we mitigate any hazard, by staying on our toes, heads on a swivel and advising the driver to not be reaching for anything and to keep their hands in plain view (when solo). When full-crew, it is even easier as your partner remains in his cover position at the suspect vehicle while you complete the want/warrant check and citation (you must still remain alert).
Another area of concern in relation to officer safety is the when officers break contact for the final time at the end of the traffic stop and then walk back to their unit. Again the question is: Why do we break contact to walk back to our patrol car? The answer again is because we have always done so.
I will offer two tips for you to consider. First, consider not breaking contact to go back to your vehicle and instead tell the driver that the stop is over and that they are free to leave and then hold your position until they drive off. The second tip is, if you absolutely have to break contact and return to your patrol car, then utilize the Cover and Move technique.
Cover and Move is a variation of tactical movement applied to a traffic stop. Here the cover officer holds at the passenger door while the contact officer moves to the left rear bumper, holds and takes over as cover officer. Then the partner moves to the right rear bumper, re-assumes cover duties while the other officer moves to the patrol car. It is a calculated leap frog back. These are tactical pauses where you look at the driver/occupants of the vehicle to assure that there is no threat before moving to the next position.
Too complicated, not really? But why do this? The times and general safety move us to mitigate risk to ourselves and as supervisors to the officers that we are responsible for. No one walks back to their patrol car with 100% observation on the suspect vehicle. What most actually do, is walk half-backward and forward (looking forward with glances to the rear towards the suspect vehicle). Even if one were to walk backward some 20’ to the patrol car, that in itself creates a hazard on falling and not being able to see what is approaching you.
Cover and Move provides you with a solid platform from which to respond to any threat immediately and without having to turn and attempt to react from an unbalanced and twisted platform.
How I arrived at these suggestions is through honest reflection on my own traffic stops in an attempt to mitigate risks to safety. That is, I tested these techniques out on my own and have found them to be of benefit. If you have a chance, please send me your feedback on these TTP’s and also your feedback after you have attempted them on traffic stops.
So ask yourself, why break contact and how can we break this habit and find safer solutions to make traffic stops safer for law enforcement as a whole.
About the Author: Lawrence Lujan is the Editor-in-Chief for ITTA’s flagship publication Tactical Solutions Magazine. Lawrence is a highly decorated officer serving as a field and training Sergeant with 26 years of service to the El Paso Police Departmentby