The dangers for police officers of “routine” traffic stops are described by St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario. Last week, Mendota Heights, Mn., officer, Scott Patrick, 47, was fatally shot as he approached a vehicle, unaware the driver was not the registered owner but a wanted fugitive with a long rap sheet who faced three years in prison for a probation violation. Patrick was ambushed from the driver’s side. Sixty-two officers were killed in traffic stops between 2003 and 2012, says the FBI.
Improving officers’ safety and analyzing their reactions during stops that turned dangerous was the centerpiece of a study conducted last year by the Mankato, Mn.-based Force Science Institute. The study suggested that officers might be safer in such situations if they approached the vehicle from the passenger side, reaching a safe area a half-second quicker then from the driver’s side. “Such a small window of time could mean the difference between life and death in the field,” researchers said.