Insight Policing: The Traffic Stop
According to Stanford University researchers, traffic stops are among the most common interactions police have with the public. Officers pull over more than 50,000 drivers each day. It can be stressful—on both sides. Often it doesn’t take much for an interaction to escalate. When it does, it’s conflict.
Conflict between law enforcement and the public can be problematic. It leads to less compliance, more force, and a breakdown in perceptions of police legitimacy.
Insight Policing: The Traffic Stop shows what an officer experiences when he encounters a driver who is unwilling to comply. Not only is the anger, frustration and defiance of the driver a challenge to deal with, but the officer has to contend with his own anger and frustration at not being able to do his job efficiently and effectively.
While noncompliance is a violation of the law in most states, it can also come across as a threat to officers. Insight Policing suggests that when people feel threatened, the knee-jerk response is to defend. The goal is to try to stop whatever is threatening.
In Take 1 of The Traffic Stop, Officer Ray uses force — first the force of his voice and ultimately the force of his power to arrest — to stop the threat the driver is posing by arguing with him. His goal is to impose compliance. As the scene fades out we hear the click of the handcuffs. What could have been a simple citation turns into much more.
In Take 2 of The Traffic Stop, Officer Ray uses his Insight Policing skills to recognize that the driver's anger, frustration, and defiance is most likely the result of a percieved threat. Rather than get defensive, Officer Ray gets curious. He takes a few valuable moments to figure out why the driver is not complying. Getting curious gets the driver engaged and cooperative. So much that by the end of the scene, not only does Officer Ray have no problem issuing a ticket, but he has a new ally in his department’s efforts to stop a rash of petty crime.
Insight Policing: The Traffic Stop shows that situations turn out differently depending on the skills an officer chooses to use. When the objective is compliance and cooperation, a little curiosity can go a long way.
I'm Megan Price, PhD, Director of CAICR. I'm passionate about applying the discoveries and skills of Insight Conflict Resolution to challenging problems and challenging fields.