High-Risk Stops: 4 Tips for Better Tactics

Use solid tactics to win control of the situation & avoid violence

By Scott Hughes  |   Feb 8, 2016
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They’re called “high-risk” or “felony” stops for a reason—they are inherently dangerous and potentially deadly if not handled properly! (For more on this, see my previous article “Traffic Stop Survival.”)

Remember how you felt the first time you typed that license plate into the computer and it came back STOLEN?! Woo-hoo! GO TIME!

Unfortunately many law enforcement agencies don’t practice felony stops nearly enough, and when these stops happen, they’re often a debacle. Let’s change that now.

Following are some basic rules to keep in mind when conducting a felony or high-risk stop.

  1. CONTROL

It begins before you even activate your overhead lights and siren.

Take control of the radio! Any radio traffic not related to the felony stop should cease until the event is over. High-risk stops are rapidly changing and evolving quickly, so the officers on the traffic stop need the air time to convey the details. Everybody needs to know ahead of time a) who is going to handcuff, b) who is going to clear the car, c) which officers are going to check the trunk, etc.

Remember: You are in control of the stop. And you must stay in control of the stop! It starts by giving loud, clear, verbal commands.

  1. STAY DOWN BEHIND COVER

A simple concept, yet in the heat of the moment, when our stress increases, officers will often violate this rule. During our TNT: Tactics in Traffic class, we discuss many of the advantages and disadvantages of where officers should position themselves when giving commands and “covering” the suspect vehicle. Some officers prefer to stand behind their cruiser door and give commands, while others kneel down or angle outside of the car door. Whatever tactic you choose, you must be aware of the implications of this choice and you need to practice before you actually do it. Regardless of what tactic you apply, ensure that you are making yourself a small target and you are able to accurately fire your weapon if needed.

  1. EVERY COMMAND SHOULD END WITH: “DO IT NOW!”

These three simple, yet powerful words, further increase officers’ tactical and command presence. You are giving a clear and direct order for the occupants to follow. There should be no question about what the suspect should be doing or who’s in charge. For example: “Driver, walk backwards towards the sound of my voice. DO IT NOW!”

  1. UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF HANDCUFFING

As mentioned in a prior Calibre Press article, handcuffing (speed cuffing) appears to be a lost art. When you bring a violent suspect back to the sound of your voice, somebody must be prepared to apply the handcuffs—quickly! There are many different options on how to handcuff quickly. The point is find one that works for you, and practice, practice, practice!

Conclusion

These are simple and fairly basic reminders of the dangers we face when conducting felony or high-risk traffic stops, which can sometimes involve multiple jurisdictions operating on different frequencies. Therefore, communication with dispatch, and relaying that information, is critical. (Note: Include dispatchers during training).

Supervisors: Ensure you are “slowing down the scene” by taking charge. Keep an eye on your officers and their tactics. Make sure they are following basic officer safety tactics, i.e., staying down behind cover and keeping fingers off the trigger. Most importantly—control the scene.

Stay safe!

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Scott Hughes
Scott is a contributing writer and Instructor for Calibre Press. Chief Hughes has been recognized as a subject matter expert by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission in traffic stops. He is the creator and lead instructor of the course TNT: Tactics in Traffic. He also instructs the Street Survival Seminar and Warrior’s Edge programs with Calibre Press.