Don’t Overlook Safety During Traffic Stops

To The Editor:
Good morning Chief Rossi,

My name is Jeff Wallace. I am a 63 year old resident in the Town of Oswego.

I have spent many years in the profession of law enforcement and 26 years of military service.

This message is not to criticize in any way your department. Please understand that.

As you know traffic stops are inherently dangerous for police officers, many of whom patrol and conduct stops alone.

According to FBI statistics, more officers are killed or injured annually during the course of a traffic stop than at any other time excluding vehicle accidents and effecting arrests.

According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund and Federal Bureau of Investigation, 64 enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty during the first half of 2015. This represents a 3% increase over 2014 at this same time.

For the third year in a row, traffic-related incidents were the leading cause of the officer fatalities thus far with 30 officers being killed as a result of traffic-related incidents, increasing 20 percent from the same period in 2014.

Although there are many reasons why police officers are killed during traffic stops, in the last nine years, not counting 2015, 134 of those traffic related officers deaths were caused by the officer being hit by a car.

In 1995, the city of Oswego lost a police officer when hit by a car in the line of duty.

Chief, I say all this because I would like to suggest that when your officers are engaged in a vehicle and traffic stop that they, when possible, pull the vehicle over in a safe place for the driver of the car, the passing traffic, and off course the officer who pulled the car over.

This past Sunday, September 6, at about 12:15 p.m., while coming home from church, I came up to the traffic light at the main entrance of the University. All the traffic was back up. I could see the University Campus Police patrol car lights flashing up ahead on State Route 104, just past the university entrance. With State Route 104 only being one lane on each side, it took a while for me to travel a short distance to where your officer pulled over the car.

The place the officer decided to pull over the car over was located where the ‘side of the road’ was not very wide and therefore the patrol car wheels were well into State Route 104.

I realize that police officers are trained to take steps to protect themselves from passing traffic such as using their own car as a shield. But there should always be a buffer zone.

In this case, there was absolutely no buffer zone of acceptable safety for the officer and the driver of the pulled over car. When the officer gets out of the car he is at least 4 feet into the road. This is not safe. At the same time, traffic is back up on both sides of the road. With it being Labor Day weekend, at the time in question, there was a lot of traffic, going both ways.

This is very frustrating to the public that was driving, at that location, when it doesn’t have to be.

When I finally reach the patrol car, the police cruiser was less than 15 feet from the empty parking of Fruit Valley Veterinarian, a local business. The business was closed and the officer could have easily requested the driver to pull off into the empty parking lot…tons of room, totally clear from all traffic, and very safe for all.

As once a law enforcement patrol officer, I had the capability to speak to the driver of the car, that I pulled over, through an outside speaker system, which is standard equipment in most police cruisers.

Because there are so many police officer deaths, while engaged in a vehicle and traffic stop, many states have enacted laws requiring freeway traffic approaching the police vehicle to merge over to the left, leaving an entire lane as a buffer zone for the officer. We don’t have that luxury because most of our roads are one lane going both ways. In most places the road sides are not very wide.

The point is safety, safety, safety.

Chief, your department is not the only police agency that could have pulled cars over on a side street or in an empty parking lot, instead of having their driver side front end sticking out in the road and causing traffic flow problems an delays. I have witnessed this same thing with the city of Oswego Police patrol units and particularly with the State Police.

All of us in law enforcement that have patrolled at one time in our careers have done this and in many cases it is perfectly safe.

I believe all agencies should encourage their officers to use better discretion on where they end up pulling the cars over upon a traffic stop.

Off course there are many factors to calculate in a vehicle traffic stop but when safety is the #1 reason on where the car is finally stopped, we are all less nervous as I was this past Sunday which prompted me to write this message.

I know it can’t happen every time, but like I explained from my personal observation this past Sunday, it could have easily been accomplish, extremely safe, and less frustrating to the other drivers on the road at that time and location.

No rules are broken when an officer makes this kind of responsible and mature safety decision.

Chief, I thank you for your time, consideration and thank you for your service to our community.

Jeff R. Wallace
Oswego Town