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How to approach traffic stops during COVID-19

Law enforcement organizations have recommended limited enforcement of traffic laws during the pandemic


By Michael Rivera

Traffic stops are not routine. They are inherently dangerous. We do not know how the individual we are stopping will react to our attempt to enforce the law.

With our nation dealing with COVID-19, law enforcement organizations have recommended limited enforcement of traffic laws. To be proactive and establish guidelines for stopping a vehicle in a “new normal,” I recommend the following based on my training and experience:

  1. Once the vehicle has been stopped, order the occupants to lower the windows. This is a test in compliance. It is a simple command that anyone, who is not under the influence and is willing to comply, should be able to follow. Failure to follow the command should be a warning sign.
  2. While observing for signs of compliance or resistance, you can decide if personal protective equipment (PPE) is required before an approach. You can put latex gloves on at a minimum, anticipating you will be touching documents or individual(s) in the vehicle.
  3. Do not ask for registration and insurance documents. When I started working as an officer 20 years ago, we asked for these documents to ensure compliance with the law. Now this information can be readily accessed on our mobile data terminals or confirmed by our dispatch. This means one less document we need to touch.
  4. You can ask to see the individual’s driver’s license. Unless you see that it is a blatant forgery, you do not have to touch this either. Write down the number on a field information card. When you are in a position of safety, confirm the license is valid.
  5. Keep a separate pen for individuals to sign. Most of us already do this, however, I have seen officers cross-contaminate their equipment by putting it with their equipment. Remember to keep the pen separate and wipe it down as soon as possible. Dispose of your PPE appropriately.
  6. Should you choose to use your discretion to not cite the individual, give them your business card or department card with your name on it. People always remember the person who issued them a citation because your name is on the cite. People rarely remember the person who gave them a break. Use this opportunity to build community relations and compliance with the law.

These recommendations are meant to be used with your current practices and safety standards. They do not supersede your department’s policies or procedures. I offer them to enhance our safety and begin a discussion about patrolling during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

About the author

Michael Rivera is a sergeant with the Salinas Police Department with 20 years of law enforcement experience. He has served as a field training officer, crime scene investigator, detective, gang enforcement officer and SWAT team member. Michael is also an adjunct instructor for Hartnell Community College where he instructs criminal justice courses.