5 simple rules for staying safer during a Terry stop
The Terry stop is a versatile law enforcement tool that can be used to great effect by officers, but we must be aware of the inherent hazards in these contacts and use tactics to mitigate them
The investigative contact or Terry Stop is a complicated interaction between a police officer and a citizen that — by the very nature of the contact — contains inherent officer safety threats.
In a Terry Stop, the officer has developed a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring and has decided to detain a citizen in order to further investigate the situation.
The detention may be a matter of informing the citizen that they are not free to leave, may involve a frisk for weapons, or could begin with a high risk handcuffing procedure. Let’s examine officer safety considerations with the decision making process in this interaction.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself
1.) What is the nature of the crime I’m interdicting? If you believe you are contacting suspects in a crime of violence, the threat to you is elevated. Your justification for a weapon frisk is much greater.
Use a Control Hold
I see many officers and trainees try to short-cut this part of the process by beginning the pat-down without establishing a control hold. I advocate the Modified Faulkner position (pictured, above and to the left), wherein the suspect is controlled via finger lock with their hands behind their back.
Many prefer the suspect to have his hands interlaced behind his head. Whatever your technique preference, a control hold or position should be used to place the suspect at a disadvantage prior to the start of the pat-down.
Optimally, you should have a cover officer present at the start of the contact. Depending on the realities of staffing in your jurisdiction however, this is not always possible.
In the event you are beginning the pat-down alone, it is even more important to use a control hold. You may want to handcuff the suspect at the beginning of the detention — however, you must then make decisions with the Fourth Amendment issues regarding use of force and Miranda.
In summary, the Terry stop is a versatile law enforcement tool that can be used to great effect by officers, but we must be aware of the inherent hazards in these contacts and use tactics to mitigate them.
Make a threat assessment and take steps to mitigate the objective and subjective hazards.
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