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Establishing a compliance baseline during a vehicle stop


During a vehicle stop, officers can begin to evaluate safety risks within the first few minutes of contact with the operator by setting a compliance “baseline.”

All decisions and actions moving forward are evaluated by the subject’s initial willingness to comply with the officer’s directions. Every subsequent action (or failure to act) potentially moves the level of danger off the baseline.

When debriefing students at the conclusion of scenario training, I like to take a few minutes to “walk” officers through this concept.

I identify the initial moment of officer/subject contact during the incident and help them to use that to establish their baseline. I then guide them through the events that follow, stopping at each danger cue that may (or may not) have been perceived.

Each time I ask the officer: “Did the danger level go down, stay the same, or go up? And then this happened….” This exercise helps students evaluate if they used the correct force option, or if they need to improve their tactics.

One of the simplest methods to set the compliance baseline on your approach is to request that the driver turn the vehicle wheels toward the non-traffic side of the berm and turn off the engine. Now envision what you would do if the operator refused. Has your danger level gone down, stayed the same, or gone up? Non-compliance could indicate that your violator does not want to give up the ability to flee.

Read more: Considerations when attempting to control subjects inside a vehicle.

Sergeant (Ret.) Robert Bemis retired in 2017 as a supervisor in the Operational Training Division at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy in Hershey. With over 30 years of law enforcement experience, Sgt. Bemis spent more than a decade as a trainer specializing in officer safety, self-defense and civil disorder tactics. He is the author of Forged in Scars & Stripes: A Trooper’s Victory Over Critical Injury. Sgt. Bemis is currently the Director of Training at Wrap Reality, a virtual reality training solution for law enforcement and corrections.