There are hundreds of combinations of events that can take place during a traffic stop; the suspect can comply, passively resist, assault, run from the officer, etc. Incidents can take place near the suspect vehicle, patrol car or nearby real estate. There is no way to predict and few ways to categorize the actions that occur during a traffic stop.
Law Enforcement Technology (LET) designed a method of data collection to test officers' actions and reactions. Like any other data gathering experiment, the information will never be complete. However, findings should be shared with the law enforcement community.
Setting up the experiment
Using Airsoft pistols, provided by Pyramyd Air located in Bedford Heights, Ohio, and inert OC canisters, provided by Enforcement Technology Group Inc. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a team of "officers" and "suspects" were assembled in a static traffic stop scenario. An observer was placed out of harm's way with a stopwatch to ensure the results were measured and repeatable. Suspect reactions were divided into three categories consistent with the 2004 officer-assaulted traffic stop data published by the Department of Justice (DOJ): empty-handed attack, attack with firearm and suspect fled scene.
According to the 2004 DOJ data, of the 6,568 assaults on law enforcement officers, 3,889 were carried out using personal weapons (fists, hands and feet), 209 assaults were firearms related, and 2,428 were with other dangerous weapons. Thus, firearms would be appropriate in at least a quarter of officer assaults during traffic stops and less-lethal tools in more than half.
Essentially, a real-time version of a training scenario commonly found in simulators was designed. Included in the scenario is the immediacy of avoiding being hit; Airsoft rounds hurt.
Officers and suspects involved were not told what the data was for, only their options and the parameters for safety. For the experiment, the suspect was considered successful in "rushing" the officer when he could touch the officer before being subdued by OC. Successful deployment of OC meant that the officer delivered any amount of spray to the face of the suspect. Peripheral Airsoft hits were noted but not considered threat stopping.
LET understands the chosen method of data gathering took away some realism within the experiment. For example, it would be unreasonable in "real life" for an officer to remain in place when being assaulted by an unarmed assailant. However, this experiment required consistency in data and test officers were instructed to respond from their vehicle's open door to make data measurable.
From when a traffic stop is initiated to completion, every effort must be made to avoid dividing the officer's attention. For example, it should be department policy that all radio traffic describing the location of the stop be completed prior to either vehicle coming to rest. The mobile data computer should be as far to the right as to not impede an officer's quick exit. If the sun visor was down, it should be flipped up long before the stop is initiated. Better, the officer should attempt to control the stop so that the suspect vehicle faces away from the sun. This is not always feasible, but all tactical advantages should be considered.
The less encumbered by environmental factors such as traffic and pedestrians, the greater the safety of the stop. If given the option of stopping in a paved area or on an unimproved road, consider the amount of dust from two vehicles shielding aggressive moves or escape.
Response improves with intel
Response time, accuracy and information are part of a closed loop. That is, if intelligence or prior knowledge is complete, the likelihood of an appropriate response increases. If the appropriate response time is reduced, more time can be spent on target acquisition.