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Officers identify red flags for non-compliance during traffic stops

Police1 readers list the behaviors that indicate the potential for non-compliance during a traffic stop



To better understand officers’ experiences, perceptions, training and tactics for non-compliance during traffic stops, Police1 conducted a survey of more than 1,000 patrol officers. (Click here to access the complete survey results.)

As part of that survey, respondents identified more than 500 red flag actions and behaviors that indicate the potential for non-compliance during a traffic stop.

We compiled the top responses and themes for handy review:

  • After traffic stop initiation, the vehicle continues at a slow pace, failing to yield for a short while, then yielding in an advantageous position for the vehicle occupants. This behavior can be an indication of escape/assault planning, concealment of contraband, coordination of alibis amongst occupants, etc.
  • Not completely pulling off the highway/roadway.
  • Driver calls someone after the stop (almost always an indicator of the driver being aware of having a warrant and is calling someone to take possession of the vehicle or to let them know they are getting arrested).
  • The driver watches your movements as you approach the vehicle.
  • The driver does not roll down the window.
  • The driver attempts to move your attention away from them, i.e., drops his license on the ground so you have to pick it up.
  • The subject repeats every question or asks “What?” when asked or told a simple thing.
  • Inappropriate delays in compliance, which can indicate a subject is thinking up false responses to questions or formulating a plan to take action against the officer.
  • When they are asked to exit the vehicle and they stall.
  • Subjects separating themselves from the vehicle without being asked to do so as they are trying to separate themselves and you from illegal activity in the vehicle.
  • Scanning the area looking for a “way out.”
  • Immediate shifting of the body to abnormal areas of the vehicle (not glove box, middle console, or visor) such as down below the driver’s seat or back seat.
  • Whitening of fingers and hands as they grip the steering wheel.
  • Vehicle shaking as if occupants are moving erratically from within.
  • Immediate hostility before knowing the reason for the traffic stop.
  • When a driver says, “I am just trying to go home” they have been in a position where they knew they were about to be arrested due to the gun, drugs and/or warrant that they had. This is a psychological cue much like a security touch of a weapon that the person knows that the officer is about to impede them from going home for quite some time and expresses that all they want is to prevent the impending arrest due to their misconduct and continue on home. So, if someone expresses an over-eagerness to “just get home” be on guard you may be on to something.
  • If they start to smoke, be cautious because it generally means they either did something and believe they are being caught or they have warrants and want to get a last smoke in before they go to jail.
  • The thousand-yard stare when the suspect’s flight or fight response is starting is the best red flag I’ve experienced in my 25 years of experience. They are weighing the risks vs. rewards in real-time. They can hear you, but they are listening to their own internal dialog on how to survive without going to prison.
  • Repeating your questions, especially when the subject is sober. This is a stalling technique for them to formulate a plan. Using the phone instead of addressing you is another one. They’re not just being rude; they’re stalling, calling for backup, etc.
  • Watch for false compliance. Someone who is being too nice can lull you into thinking everything is okay.