[Ed. note: This is part three of a four part series on traffic stop safety. Please read the articles on calling out the stop, patrol car placement and the use of light and movement for a complete look at safe traffic stops.]
How do you exit the patrol car? Are you deliberate every time or do you casually exit like you do any vehicle?
Exiting the car should be as critical a movement as anything you do in the car stop, because how and when you exit may be the difference you need to survive.
When I was training new officers my instructions were that they were to be prepared to exit the patrol car as soon as the suspect vehicle came to a stop. That takes a lot of preparation – calling in the stop in advance, choosing good stopping locations, timing, and good patrol car placement on a stop.
Richard posted a video of a thug who decided to shoot it out with the cops. He very quickly exited his truck after the stop and engaged both officers in the patrol car before retreating back to his truck. It only took 4.25 seconds for him to exit, walk to the back of his truck, shoot multiple times at both officers, and then turn to retreat. The officers in the video did a great job in engaging this felon and ultimately were victorious.
The point is you had better be prepared when the vehicles come to a stop. And sitting in your car watching the show is not being prepared. You must be outside of your car and ready to conduct business, advance, foot chase, or even tactically retreat if needed. To do this you must be absolutely prepared when that suspect stops.
Here are a few tips that will help you take the tactical advantage and be prepared for the unthinkable should it happen to you:
- Anticipate your enforcement action and plan on a location that puts you in a tactical advantage over the other driver. Avoid the opposite as much as possible.
- Call in your stops before the emergency lights go on.
- Plan your patrol car positioning during the stop based upon location, traffic conditions, your safety needs, and your tactical plan.
- As the suspect vehicle is almost stopped unfasten your seatbelt and make sure it is clear of your duty gear.
- Make sure your hands are free of radio mics, pens, food, drinks, or whatever.
- Plan to give your patrol car an acceptable distance behind the suspect – I recommend 15-20 feet between vehicles to give better protection from approaching motorists, and a good safety distance that the bad guy must close to engage you, with bullets or by other violent means.
- As soon as you can when that suspect stops put your patrol car in park while at the same time opening your driver’s door.
- Exit as quickly as you can and try to position yourself to be facing the suspect vehicle as you do so. Pause briefly upon exit to examine the suspect vehicle for any potential dangers.
- Have a plan for a driver’s side or passenger’s side approach and carry out the plan, keeping the suspect vehicle in sight as much as possible. Do not cross in front of your patrol car and give the suspect an opportunity to back into or pin you between the vehicles.
Practicing these tips will become second nature, and will increase your confidence in stops, while providing you the greatest safety position that you can assume. If bad guy exits quickly his confidence will be hindered when he looks back and you’re already out of your car ready to engage him.
Be safe, get in the right mindset to survive, get off the X if you find yourself there, and keep fighting until the fight is done. Fight to win to the end.
Aaron is a sergeant with a midwestern police department, where he serves as a trainer, supervisor and SWAT sniper. In addition to his broad tactical knowledge, Aaron has experience in DUI, DRE and undercover narcotics investigations.