A dispatcher-turned-cop’s plea: Put out your stops

Please put out your stops as often as conceivably possible, prior to contacting the driver/occupants

Before becoming a sworn officer, I spent a couple years as a dispatcher in Southern California. Between time behind the mike and time with a gun, I’ve spent nearly half my life on the air. Consequently, I have some serious pet peeves when it comes to radio traffic.

Don’t Deny Yourself Backup
In my jurisdiction, Code four means “no further assistance needed” so it drives me batty when I hear a fellow officer announce a traffic stop and immediately follow it up with “code four.”

It means one of two things: Either the officer is claiming he/she is code four prior to contacting the driver/occupants or they’ve already contacted the driver prior to notifying dispatch of the traffic stop.

Let’s think about each in turn. The first option is calling out the stop and assuming you require no further assistance. Assumption is the bastard cousin of complacency. I don’t care how long in the tooth you are, how many car stops you’ve done, or how close to retirement you may be, if you are assuming the vehicle in front of you and the occupant(s) therein represent no inherent danger, you are inviting trouble.

However, that isn’t the option that really tips the scales against you. The second one is far worse. Stopping a car, contacting the driver and/or other occupants without notifying dispatch prior to contact is a recipe for disaster. Where I work we call them “ghost stops.”

What if things go south in a hurry? And don’t even start with the excuses here. I swear to God, if you even think the words “it won’t happen to me” I’ll fly to your jurisdiction and punch you in the throat. I think by now, we all realize it can and will happen anywhere.

If you end up shot on the side of the road or getting your ass handed to you by a car load of thugs because you were too lazy to put your stop out ahead of time, realize that it may be hours before help finds you. 

So, give your partners the opportunity to at least start your way when you call out a traffic stop. What harm is there in having them roll by and you then holding up the ubiquitous four-finger hand signal? 

As an old school dispatcher and an eight-and-half-year-veteran motor officer, I understand the desire to limit one’s time on the air. Say what you’ve got to say and then shut up. Be concise. Be clear. But give yourself the opportunity to be in the first place.

I must confess I’ve made this very same mistake recently, twice in a shift. Making this mistake happens for a variety of reasons — the point here is to minimize its frequency (so to speak). 

I understand busy jurisdictions. I understand that sometimes you have a cop who just won’t shut up and is constantly cluttering the radio — sometimes our brothers/sisters in blue feel like it’s their one shot to deliver Hamlet’s soliloquy right as you’re stopping a car full of possible serial killers.

It’s a pain, I empathize.

On occasion, it becomes necessary to take the risk — and that’s exactly what it is — to stop the soccer mom before you’ve got clear air to put out your stop. I get it. Simple statistics should tell you, however, that the more times you roll the dice, the higher your odds of rolling snake eyes.  

I’ve been to nearly two dozen cop funerals. I don’t want to add to that number. Please put out your stops as often as conceivably possible, prior to contacting the driver/occupants.

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