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Traffic stops, professional courtesy, and conduct unbecoming

In order to be granted professional courtesy, you first must be professional and courteous

Two off-duty officers — one in full uniform and driving his squad car, the other in ‘civvies’ and driving his personally-owned vehicle — got into a roadside beef during a traffic stop in Baton Rouge (La.). Dash-cam video of the incident surfaced yesterday, and we posted a brief news item about it.

Neither officer in the video comes out looking all that great — a fact which is reflected in many of your comments beneath yesterday’s news story.

Officer David Stewart — who was off duty and outside his jurisdiction at the time — pursued a white pick-up truck he observed doing about twice the posted speed limit. The stop was not handled perfectly.

The driver of the truck, Corporal Brian Harrison, demonstrated behaviors at the stop which would put just about any civilian driver in custody. The phrase “conduct unbecoming” immediately springs to mind.

Do Unto Others
Ultimately, the video speaks largely for itself and there’s no point in further pointing fingers at either the uniformed officer or the off-duty cop who was stopped. They both made mistakes. Let’s move on.

But it does provide an opportunity to talk about the notion of “professional courtesy” with regard to off-duty traffic violations.

Imagine you’ve stopped someone for a traffic violation. What does the ideal “violator” look like in your mind’s eye? Someone who is rational, reasonable, and maybe even apologetic, right? Someone who obeys your instructions and is responsive to your questions, right?

When you’re off duty in your POV and you’ve been stopped by another officer, make that “ideal violator” the model for your behavior.

Keep your hands on the wheel
Keep your emotions in check
Keep your language civilized
Keep your badge in your pocket
Keep your fellow officer in mind

Handling Off-Duty Carry
Let’s go back to imagining a hypothetical traffic stop, but this time, let’s imagine the person you stopped is a legally-armed citizen. In an ideal world, they would calmly say something like, “Officer, I’m a legally-permitted CCW in [your state here] and I have a firearm in my vehicle and on my person. For our mutual safely I want you to be aware of that right up front.”

You have to remember that when you’re armed and off duty, and stopped for a traffic violation, the order in which you divulge information pertinent to officer safety (read: “I have a weapon” and “I’m off-duty LEO”) matters.

Now, if you’re the cop doing the stop, don’t let your guard down just because someone says “I’m a cop.” Keep in mind the fact that good guys suddenly (and without warning) sometimes become bad guys.

The Golden (and Cerulean) Rule
My good friend and Police1 colleague Dan Marcou puts it, “Do unto other officers in uniform as you would have others do onto you. That is the true meaning professional courtesy.”

I look at it this way: in order to be granted (or even considered for) professional courtesy, you first must be professional and courteous. Respect yourself and respect what the badge — not your badge, but THE badge — represents. And that goes for both parties at an off-duty LEO traffic stop.

If both individuals carry those values into the encounter, then they will both naturally (and mutually) behave in a respectful manner toward their fellow officer...

Stay safe out there my friends.

Doug Wyllie writes police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug was a co-founder of the Policing Matters podcast and a longtime co-host of the program.