10 tips to protect yourself from vehicular assault during traffic stops
Understanding your capabilities, tactics and limitations will prevent you from being the next officer dragged by fleeing suspect
All too frequently we read stories of officers who have been killed or injured by suspects driving over or dragging officers. Whether it is a motorcycle, smart car or 18-wheeler, it’s a confrontation you will not win. That wheeled vehicle can be a monster.
Here are 10 safety reminders to protect yourself from this threat:
1. Understand you are at a disadvantage
Right now, look down at your chest. If you see a big red “S” then disregard everything in this article. If not, remember that you are vulnerable to attack, injury and death any time you are working around vehicles in your job. Stepping in front of, standing behind or attempting to grab a vehicle to stop it will always be a losing, possibly fatal proposition.
2. Understand how you are wired
Human beings are predators and we have a hard-wired response to chase things when they run, whether two-legged, four-legged or four-wheeled. As a cop you have that reflex reaction to catch those who run from you. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you do it safely. When the risks outweigh the rewards, you need to be prepared to let the suspect flee and even escape. If the arrest isn’t worth your life, then let them go, coordinate your resources and come up with an alternate plan.
3. Shut the vehicle off
With the vehicle shut off, you give yourself a little reaction time before it can be used against you. Having the keys or the electronic fob in your possession will add to the level of safety.
4. When possible, have the driver exit the vehicle
If a driver is showing signs of wanting to flee, try to talk him or her out of the vehicle. Make sure you do this cautiously because more than one passenger has jumped into the driver’s seat and absconded. With no one literally and figuratively in the driver’s seat, you increase the likelihood that the vehicle will stay where it is.
5. Stay behind the door pillar
When officers get comfortable or complacent, they forget about their safety and fall into the habit of positioning themselves where they can see the driver’s face. It’s normal to want to have a face-to-face interaction. We are wired that way for communication. However, this may cause officers to lean or move forward of the door post. Some officers may even go so far as to lean into the window while leaning on the vehicle, and this dramatically increases the likelihood of being grabbed by a suspect or having your equipment snagged and being dragged by a fleeing subject.
6. Bring them to you
I have lost track of the large number of cops who were taken for an unscheduled departure because they reached inside the vehicle to grab the keys to restrain the driver or put the vehicle in park. Whether the driver is frightened and attempting to flee, drunk or high and unaware that you are along for the ride, or intentionally trying to kill you, it won’t matter much to you when your arms, legs or body are being ground down by the road surface into something resembling bloody hamburger. When you finally break free from this situation, you can look forward being run over by the suspect’s or a passing vehicle or being ripped off on a passing telephone pole or parked car. Again, stay out of the vehicle.
7. The jaws of death
When the door opens and you are standing behind a vehicle, you are staring into the mouth of a monster. This beast will quickly chew you up and spit you out if that vehicle goes into reverse. When trapped between the open door and the vehicle, your escape options are limited. Officers have jumped into or onto a vehicle with predictable results. Moving quickly away from the vehicle may get you outside the reach of it and into oncoming traffic.
8. Stay outside the arc of the door
You have several options when having a subject exit a vehicle. You can move outside the length of the door, but again that places you in position for assault and possibly being struck by other traffic. You can move forward of the door to keep out of the jaws, but this places you forward of the pillar post area which exposes you to slightly easier assault by firearms, but the door does provide a barrier to physical assault. You can also move quickly toward the rear of the vehicle. Each choice has strengths and weaknesses.
9. Passenger side approach
This method will eliminate the driver’s ability to quickly grab you. It also provides a safer escape route if you have to move laterally away from a grab from inside the vehicle or an attempted run over by the driver.
10. Remember how vehicles work
They move forward, backwards, or in an arc, but they never move sideways. Engrain that as your escape route. You can dramatically cut down on your chance of being run over by doing everything in your power to avoid standing directly in front or behind a vehicle.
You are not designed to be a stop stick, barricade or road block. You don’t want to be a speed bump. By understanding your capabilities, tactics and limitations you will avoid being the next headline.
This article, originally published on 10/12/16, has been updated.