[Editor’s note: In a previous version of this article we indicated CHP Officer Kirk Griess was killed while standing outside of his passenger door. In fact, Officer Griess was assigned to motorcycle patrol when he was struck and killed by an allegedly distracted and speeding driver. We sincerely regret the error.]
Dateline: Columbus County, N.C.
Trooper Kevin Conner was gunned down on October 17, 2018 by a 20-year-old suspect driving a stolen truck. The suspect, a probationer, opened fire on Conner as the officer made his approach up to the vehicle. Conner, 38, was an 11-year-veteran of the NCHP.
Dateline: Mountain View, Hawaii.
Hawaii County Police Officer Bronson Kaliloa was shot and killed on July 18, 2018, as he and other officers approached a vehicle wanted in connection with an outstanding warrant. As the officers walked up to the vehicle, the suspect opened fire, striking Bronson. He was 46, a 10-year-veteran of the HCPD
Dateline: Mentor, Ohio
On June 24, 2018, at approximately 1:00 a.m., while assisting other officers at the scene of a traffic stop, Mentor Police Officer Mathew Mazany was struck and killed by an H&R driver. The suspect, age 24, was intoxicated and had heroin and fentanyl in his system. Mazany, 41, had been with the MPD for 14 years.
A Better Way?
The full 2018 FBI Officer Killed Statistics (LEOKA) have not been released yet, but from my preliminary research, it appears that more than a few lost their lives while making traffic stops this past year. I’ve highlighted four 2018 T-stop police deaths for analysis purposes, two officers killed by gunfire and two who were struck by passing motorists. I’ve also included some preliminary details on two fatal T-stops from December 13 and December 26, 2018.
First, some history. A while back, I got a call from my old boss, Chuck Remsberg, one of the cofounders of Calibre Press. Chuck was responding to an officer who was inquiring about some advice the officer received from his academy instructor. The issue had to do with allowing the operator of a stopped vehicle to continue walking back to your cruiser rather than having him return to his car to conduct the stop. The instructor asserted that it was safer to allow the driver to continue walking back to your squad rather than telling him to return to his or her vehicle, where the operator “might have access to a weapon.” I told Chuck I disagreed with the instructor’s premise.
The basis for my position was really three-fold.
First, asking the driver to return to his vehicle is actually a test of compliance. Should the driver not comply with your request, his or her noncompliance should give you cause for concern and escalate your awareness level.
Secondly, intelligence info. You may not have received all your data back from either the dispatcher or your computer. Most savvy street cops will have run the plate for a vehicle history and wants and warrants as part of their stop. You’ll want to have that info in hand before you make physical contact with the driver.
And third, by allowing him or her to walk to your vehicle, you remove one of the best tactical options you have in conducting investigatory vehicle stops: surprise. Hence, the purpose of this article.
It’s well established among most police trainers that passenger-side approaches are one of the best tactical tools we have in making vehicle stops. Not only does it take you out of that “kill zone” (i.e., standing close to or directly in the right travel lane as the Mazany and Griess deaths indicate), but stories from post-shift “choir practices” have memorialized the look on the faces of both drivers and passengers alike when officers have knocked on the passenger side window to ask for the operator’s license and registration. “Man, this guy’s head spun around so fast, he looked like the girl in The Exorcist.” Don’t underestimate that element of surprise. That unexpected appearance at the passenger window could prevent an ambush like what may have happened to Conner and Kaliloa
One caveat: Should you decide to undertake the passenger-side approach, your route to the passenger-side door should be from behind your vehicle, not between the front of your squad and the rear of the violator’s. This is especially true at night, where you might telegraph your approach as you break the beam of your squad’s spots/headlights. In fact, it’s never a good idea to walk between the suspect vehicle and your squad and that path should be avoided whenever possible.
Latest T-stop incidents
A traffic stop on December 13 left a DeKalb County, Georgia, Officer Edgar Flores, 24, and a November 2017 academy grad, dead. The preliminary investigation revealed that Flores exited his cruiser and made an approach up to the stopped vehicle. Prior to reaching the driver side door, the suspect, Brandon Taylor, 33, bailed out with Flores in foot pursuit. The suspect fired at the officer during the chase, mortally wounding him.
Taylor was tracked to a local business by a police service dog. When cornered, Taylor fired at the officers, striking the police dog before being shot himself. The K-9, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, was taken to a local veterinary clinic where he underwent surgery for removal of his right eye. Taylor was taken to a nearby hospital but expired from his wounds.
Lastly, a traffic stop on December 26 left Newman, Calif., Corporal Ronil Singh, a 7-year-veteran of the NPD, dead. Singh, 33, called out with a grey pickup shortly before 1:00 a.m. Moments later he broadcast “shots fired.” The evidence shows Singh managed to fire back. Responding officers found Singh at the scene with multiple gunshot wounds and rushed him to a local hospital where he was pronounced DOA. Authorities eventually located the pickup 4 miles from the scene, abandoned. They arrested the suspect, Gustavo Perez Arriaga, 32, and reportedly a member of the Surenos street gang, two days later near Bakersfield.