As a journalist, most of the time I know the vibe of the story that I am covering long before I jump in my car and head out. The story might change when I get on scene but nine times out of 10, I know what I am getting myself into.
There have only been a handful of times where I have been completely caught off guard and had been fearful of my safety. One of those times was when I was covering the tornado that hit Lancaster back in 2012. The tornado left wide-spread damage to homes and businesses.
Walking into the area was very sketchy and I was not sure if all the danger had passed. Seeing a vehicle on top of a house is an image I won’t forget. However, this is only one of a few of times I have felt fear in my chosen line of work.
Police officers, firefighters and medical personnel face that unknown on each call they respond to. Last week’s class at the Waxahachie Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy discussion focused on that unknown when it came to the topic of traffic stops. Sgt. Rob Best led the discussion and said something very striking — there is no such thing a routine traffic stop.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs website, the most common reason for contact with the police is being a driver in a traffic stop. In 2008, an estimated 44 percent of face-to-face contacts U.S. residents had with police occurred for this reason.
A traffic stop presents a great danger to the officer because the people they encounter are a complete unknown. Police don’t who they are stopping, that person’s beliefs and struggles, or what the day has been like or what is in he car. They might have some information that is relayed to them from dispatch, but that is about it.
Best told the class an officer does not know what to expect when he or she is approaching a vehicle. An officer has to constantly observe what is going on in the vehicle, and the traffic that is around them as well. If there is passenger in the vehicle, the danger level has elevated even more. According to the FBI website in 2014, 10 officers were killed in the line of duty while conducting traffic pursuits or stops.
I have a lot of respect of the officers that serve our community daily. They drive around our city with their chosen profession written in bold letters on the side of their vehicles. That takes a lot of courage because not everyone has a positive view about law enforcement. This makes their job just a little bit tougher.
I know the times that I have been pulled over for a speeding violation I’m very nervous and a little bit on edge. I have never really pictured the other side of the coin of what an officer might be feeling as they approach my car. Like the old saying goes, you never know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. Each one of us needs to put that saying into practice a little bit more and maybe the tension between the public and law enforcement would fade away.