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Motorist safety: Location of traffic stops

Use your discretion and consider the situation from the driver’s perspective when you can and when appropriate

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A colleague shared this story with me. She was 18 and driving alone after dark on the outskirts of town. A state trooper lit her up as she started up a freeway overpass. The shoulder was narrow. But she signaled and pulled over right away. The trooper directed her across the overpass to a well-lit restaurant parking lot. He ultimately warned her about a broken headlamp. A good ending, right?

Flash forward to today. What would you do in this situation? What if she signaled, but didn’t immediately pull over? What if she put her flashers on and kept driving?

You could jump to the conclusion that the person is evading and act accordingly. You could crank up the siren and hope she stops. You could even call in a pursuit.

A driver may choose not to stop right away in that situation. They could be fearful of a law enforcement encounter in a non-public area. The driver could also be concerned about someone impersonating an officer. A driver may fully intend to stop when they get to an area where they feel safer.

Does the situation allow you to postpone your traffic stop until you and the driver are in a safer location? Would stepping back and analyzing the situation if time allows being safe or prudent? It could be. Officer discretion is always paramount. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t weigh all the options when determining where to conduct a traffic stop. The same goes for trying to read the motorist and their possible intentions once you turn on your emergency lights.

Use your discretion and consider the situation from the driver’s perspective when you can and when appropriate. Above all, keep safety in the forefront of all decision-making processes.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.

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Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.