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Street Survival: How the non-approach vehicle stop can keep you out of harm’s way

When you hit the lights and pull over what can only be described as a heavily fortified defensive position on wheels, don’t just approach blind

Consider the non-approach tactic when the vehicle configuration is an approach nightmare for an officer.

This article is part of a series by Lt. Dan Marcou. Click here to access all of Dan’s street survival lessons.

In recognition of the release of “Street Survival II: Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” I am writing a series of articles on street survival designed to turn the tables on the current generation of cop-killing criminals. In this series I will share the tactics I acquired during a career dedicated not only to ensuring my own personal survival but assisting other officers in their quest to survive as well.

There is a traffic stop tactic that lies squarely between the one officers use daily for the “unknown-risk vehicle stop and approach” and the one officers use for a “high-risk vehicle contact/stop.” That in-between tactic is the “vehicle contact/stop non-approach.” Let’s discuss the differences.

The Unknown-Risk Vehicle Contact/Stop and Approach

The unknown-risk vehicle contact/stop and approach is used by officers who make traffic stops on a daily basis for moving traffic violations and/or equipment violations.

What makes these contacts unknown risks is what is in the hearts and minds of the vehicle occupants, which is a total mystery to you when you hit your lights and make your approach. Without any knowledge of specific dangers, you generally choose to approach and contact the driver from either the driver’s side or passenger side.

The High-Risk Vehicle Contact/Stop

In contrast, your reason for utilizing the high-risk vehicle stop tactic is because you are in possession of enough information about the driver and occupants to lead you to believe they present a substantial risk. For example, they may be suspects in a liquor store robbery, or a drive-by shooting.

For this type of stop, you will attempt to arrange for backup officers to be present when the lights go on. They will join you to tactically position your vehicles in a pre-trained manner.

The occupants will be given a set of commands by the primary officer over the public address (PA) system calling for them to exit the vehicle one at a time. Their movements will be controlled by commands right up to the point a designated officer applies handcuffs to each occupant.

During this process, officers remain concealed by a wall of lights and protected as best as can by cover afforded by vehicles. Throughout the high-risk stop, weapons are at the ready.

The Vehicle Contact/Stop Non-Approach

In comparison to the high-risk vehicle contact/stop, the non-approach is less intense. However, it will still expose the officer to less danger than the unknown-risk vehicle contact/stop and approach.

To conduct a vehicle contact/stop non-approach an officer will orchestrate the stop and position his squad the same as he/she would for an unknown risk vehicle contact/stop and approach. However, instead of approaching the vehicle to make contact with the driver, the officer utilizes the squad’s PA to request politely that the driver exit the vehicle and safely proceed to the right rear corner of their own vehicle.

The officer can make this request from a position of advantage of his/her choosing, either inside, outside or beside the squad behind their wall of lights. This affords the officer the opportunity before making contact to:

  • Check the driver’s compliance;
  • Get a clear visual of the driver’s hands;
  • Determine the driver’s demeanor and any visible threats;
  • Observe danger signs from a reactive distance;
  • Observe agitation and signs of impairment before making contact.

When to consider the vehicle contact/stop non-approach

Consider the non-approach tactic for the initial contact when:

  • The vehicle configuration is an approach nightmare for an officer. For example, there is no way to approach a semi-tractor, a high-performance truck, a panel truck/van, a limo or other vehicle equipped with heavily tinted windows, without an officer placing themselves at the mercy of the occupants during this blind approach. Therefore, just turn on your PA and politely request that the driver step from the vehicle and proceed safely to the right rear of their own vehicle. When all appears well, then make the contact.
  • “Furtive movements” as described by the Supreme Court are observed prior to the approach. Whenever an officer detects these furtive movement in the vehicle prior to that initial contact being made, consider at least utilizing the non-approach, if not transitioning to a high-risk vehicle contact/stop, before proceeding with the contact.

Reasons for Utilizing the Non-Approach Tactics After the Initial Contact is Made

There will be times conditions will change after your initial contact with the driver has been made, and before you return to recontact the driver.

Consider transitioning to a non-approach for the re-contact when:

  • You discover the driver has an outstanding warrant, or charges that require a full custody arrest, but you do not believe rise to the level that transitioning to a high-risk stop is warranted.
  • You observe furtive movement from within the vehicle after you have made that initial contact.

After the Contact

Once you have the driver out and behind their vehicle, you can make contact with the suspect, who you have determined is cooperative and has nothing in his/her hands.

You can choose to have another officer stand-by with the driver, while you conduct legal searches, inspections, or complete paperwork. You can also choose to have the driver return to his vehicle depending on the situation. How you proceed after the initial contact is your call.

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Getting these drivers out of this fortified position on wheels allows you to identify a stark difference between the body language of the two that you would not see if you just approached the driver seated in his cab on foot. When in doubt call them out.

Photos/Dan Marcou

Advantage

The advantage of the non-approach is it brings the driver out into the open for analysis before you expose yourself to an attack. It also in many cases removes the driver from the place possibly containing weapons, contraband and/or fruits of any crime within the vehicle.

Utilizing this tactic throws a curve to any driver and occupants planning an assault. It will serve to confuse and confound them when you do not just walk up to the vehicle as anticipated.

Impediments

Be aware that this tactic is difficult to utilize when there are language barriers, disabilities, or the occupants bolt and run.

Conclusion

In conclusion, when you hit the lights and pull over what can only be described as a heavily fortified defensive position on wheels, don’t just approach blind; stop, scan, assess and then call them out!

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.
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