"There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop," says Orleans Police Officer Patrick Cronin. "Next to domestic violence calls, traffic stops are the most dangerous activity for police officers."
So began the seventh week of the Orleans Citizen Police Academy. Your embedded reporter from CCToday was there to chronicle a very busy class.
Class began with the various elements of a traffic stop. For the first part of this segment, officers went over the various reasons why they might stop a car - from erratic driving, to suspicious activity, expired plate or inspection sticker...etc. They discussed some of the protocols they follow when speaking with a driver they just stopped and went over the various outcomes of a stop for a traffic violation.
One thing is very clear - if an officer stops you for a traffic violation your attitude makes a tremendous difference in the outcome. Officers have wide discretion on how a stop is resolved - from a verbal warning up to a criminal summons, depending upon the violation. Present yourself with an hostile attitude and you might end up with an expensive ticket and surcharges. If you have been stopped by the police, you might wonder why an officer stands in a certain place, approaches in a certain way and reacts to what you are doing in the car while he or she is talking with you.
Officers must be on high alert during every moment of a traffic stop. From the way they park the cruiser to their observations of activity in the stopped car before they approach, officers are looking for clues as to what they might encounter when they approach the car as well as how to ensure everyone's safety during the stop.
It starts with positioning the cruiser with front wheels turned towards the road. That way if another motorist rear-ends the cruiser, the vehicle will be pushed out into the road - away from the officer, stopped car and its passengers.
Once an officer approaches a stopped vehicle they're on alert for everything that goes on in a vehicle. If the officer observed the driver or passengers moving about a lot of after they were stopped, they may have drugs or other contraband in the car. As the officer speaks with the driver, she must observe all movement in the vehicle - from furtive gestures by the driver to anything that the passengers might do or say.
The second phase of this segment had the officers take the class members outside to the scene of a simulated traffic stop. Officers explained the scenario as the worked it step by step. A police officer portrayed the stopped motorist. As we worked through one of the scenarios the "motorist" pulled a fake gun on the officer as he approached the vehicle.
Officers also explained all the technology inside a police cruiser.
Many traffic stops lead to an investigation for operating under the influence. Officers began by discussing the probable cause for stopping someone they suspect is driving under the influence.
Once the subject is stopped and all traffic stop protocols are observed, officers explained what would next lead them to have the person exit their vehicle and undergo a field sobriety test. Strong odor of alcohol, red eyes and slurred speech are three of the criterial considered.
For this segment of the class, officers had recruited two community volunteers to help with the demonstration. Each volunteer was driven to the police station, given alcoholic beverages over a 2.5 hour period, presented to the class and then driven home by an officer.
While the volunteers were being prepared, the officers had class members work with "beer goggles". These are goggles set to adjust one's vision to various levels of intoxication. Several healthy, sober class members showed considerable difficulty in completing the simple "walk the line" test while wearing beer goggles.
The volunteer drinkers were introduced. One was a tall, well-developed man and the other a woman of medium height and an athletic bearing.
The male volunteer was visibly intoxicated to the layperson - atypical gait when walking, flushed appearance, glassy eyes and emitted a strong odor of alcohol. The female looked "fine" to the untrained eye.
The male failed the visual tracking test. He "walked the line" just fine but failed the "stand on one foot" test. He also failed to recite the alphabet correctly.
The female also failed the visual tracking test but not as obviously as did the male. This volunteer passed all of the physical tests.
Both subjects tested above the legal limit on the portable breathalyzer.
Officers went over what happens after a field decision is made to place an OUI suspect under arrest, right through booking and processing at police headquarters and possible granting of bail.
This was by far the most hands-on and "busy" class of the Citizen Police Academy thus far. The officers called on class members frequently to share their observations, especially on traffic stop protocol. Officers asked many questions of the participants about different aspects of traffic stop safety (i.e. "Did you see what I just did?") and did considerable "teaching by questioning".
The traffic stop demonstration was especially illuminating when one realizes how many things are going on during a stop, what the officers are on the alert for and how many things can go terribly, tragically wrong.
The OUI demonstrations were instructive not only in how tests are administered but to see the actual level of impairment demonstrated when a subject is under the influence.
Orleans Police officers participating in this class were: Sergeant Norton, Sergeant Dinn, Detective Marshall, Officer Cronin, Officer Elliott, Officer Reed, Officer Bohlin, and Officer Mele.
Cape Cod Today treated all participants to pizza from Papa Gino's at this class.