Updated: December 7, 2011 8:15AM
Fifty-six law enforcement officers were killed as a result of assaults in 2010.
Traffic stops accounted for seven of those deaths. If you do an Internet search for “police officers killed during traffic stops,” you will find pages and pages of stories about officers killed during a “routine” traffic stop.
We are taught in the academy that there is no such thing as a “routine” traffic stop. What might seem like a relatively minor traffic violation to a police officer potentially could result in a fatal encounter, depending on who is in that car.
That is exactly what happened to Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. The Tampa, Fla., police officers were killed by Dontae Rashawn Morris after Officer Curtis pulled over a vehicle in which Morris was a passenger because it didn’t have a license plate. Curtis found that Morris was wanted on a warrant for writing a bad check and called for backup. Both officers approached the vehicle on the passenger side to take Morris into custody, but he spun around and shot both officers.
What the statistics don’t tell you is that Kocab’s wife was 9 months pregnant with their first child at the time of his death. They don’t tell you that Curtis was married, with four boys ranging from 8 months to 9 years old. They don’t tell you what impeccable human beings Officers Curtis and Kocab were or how much they contributed to their profession and their community.
I tell the stories of these police officers not only to memorialize them, but so you can understand the risk associated with a “routine” traffic stop.
If you are ever pulled over, I ask that you keep this story in mind when confronted by the police officer.
If you see an officer’s overhead lights behind you, pull over as soon as possible. If you continue to drive, the officer will assume you are trying to flee. When you come to a stop, be conscious of your movements. The glove compartment is where most of us keep our insurance cards and vehicle registrations, but it is also a common place for criminals to conceal a weapon. You might be well-meaning when you reach into the glove box on your own accord, but the officer most likely will tell you to stop.
If you are reaching under your seat or maneuvering in such a way that is suggestive of guilty nervousness or that might arouse suspicion that you are hiding something, you can expect the officer to react. Many criminals attempt to “stash” illegal substances or firearms before being approached by the officer, so it is imperative that your hands remain on the steering wheel prior to the officer’s approach and that you comply with his or her requests. If there are passengers in your car, advise them to do the same.
Most importantly, do not exit your vehicle.
As unpleasant as it is to be pulled over by the police, your cooperation during a traffic stop is greatly appreciated by the officers. They do not want to become another statistic.
Aurora Police Cmdr. Kristen Ziman can be reached at KristenZiman@gmail.com.