5 felony traffic stop tactical tips for police officers

The end of a pursuit can be hectic and chaotic so remember to control yourself, trust your training and do your tactical breathing


Article updated September 9, 2017.

The felony stop is one of the most-common high-risk situations patrol officers find themselves in, but all too frequently officers utilize traffic stop tactics on felony suspects – often with tragic results. 

Officers must always remember that the end of every pursuit – and when attempting to take felony suspects into custody in a motor vehicle – requires the use of proper felony stop tactics.

High speeds and dangerous criminals combined with the rush of the pursuit is a surefire way to trigger stress reactions. (Photo/Jorge Gonzalez via Flickr)
High speeds and dangerous criminals combined with the rush of the pursuit is a surefire way to trigger stress reactions. (Photo/Jorge Gonzalez via Flickr)

How often you perform these stops depends on where you work. Some officers find it normal to do several per shift, others much less frequently. Regardless of how often you do them, here are some reminders to do them safely.

1. Don’t rush

Often officers rush forward toward the suspect vehicle rather than setting up a safe distance away and bringing the suspects out of the vehicle. An adrenaline rush causes us to speed up our actions.

Remember, there is no reason to rush forward to your own death.

2. Use tactical breathing

Utilize tactical breathing – breathe in for four counts, hold for four, out for four, hold for four – on all high-risk calls. A pursuit can last a few blocks or many miles. High speeds and dangerous criminals combined with the rush of the pursuit is a surefire way to trigger stress reactions.

If you’ve been a cop for any period of time, you’ve seen officers use poor tactics under stress. As soon as the call comes out, start your four-count breathing and maintain it throughout the pursuit. If you do this on a regular basis, you’ll reduce the effects of stress over time and set yourself up for better performance in the moment and the future.

3. Remember your purpose

The true purpose is to safely and tactically follow a suspect vehicle until sufficient back up is on scene to safely and tactically take the suspect(s) into custody. Remember to call for, and wait for, backup officers.

Understand that when a suspect flees from you, a change is often triggered in your brain. This added stress and adrenaline drive explains why we see officers leaving safety, rushing to within feet of armed suspects, and attempting to bodily drag them from the vehicle or worse.

By reminding yourself of the true purpose of the felony stop – putting the bad guys in jail by safely using sound tactics you’ve trained in for felony stops – we can avoid those tactical errors.

4. Practice with your partners

Are you and your partners all on the same page on how a felony stop should be conducted? If you are assisted by or are assisting another agency, do you do things the same way? If not, can you or can they adapt to the others’ method?

If you work together, you should train together. Having always worked in a small jurisdiction, I have done stops assisted by state troopers, deputies, cops from other agencies, Border Patrol agents and conservation officers. We didn’t do things the same way until we started to train together. The middle of a felony stop is no time to find out not everyone has the same game plan.

5. Control the scene

The end of a pursuit will be hectic and chaotic. Control yourself by remembering your purpose, trusting in your training and doing your tactical breathing. Also be prepared to control officers who have been overcome by the emotion and stress of the situation.

This is called ethical intervention and is the true meaning of the expression, “I have your back.” Be willing to step in and stop officers from rushing the car or any other poor actions that might endanger you or them tactically or legally.

They may not appreciate it in the moment, but once they have settled down they will hopefully recognize your help. By the same token, be willing to accept the same efforts of another officer on your part. We will all find ourselves overwhelmed by the stressors of the job at some point in our career.

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