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Ask A Cop: What's an officer watching when pulling someone over?

Traffic stops could be dangerous


(Editor's note: In this space every week a Lake Oswego police officer responds to questions from readers. Please send them to reporter Cliff Newell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 503 636-1281 ext 105.)

"When a police officer is pulling me over what is he or she paying attention to?"

That is a very good question. Performing traffic stops is one of the most hazardous duties of being a police officer. We don’t usually know beforehand who the driver/occupants are until we actually make person-to-person contact. It is usually a normal, law-abiding citizen. But it could be someone who just committed a serious crime or who has outstanding warrants and does not Oliverwant to go back to jail. It is for that reason why we always approach each traffic stop situation as a potential threat. What we pay attention to starts before we even turn on the overhead lights to make the traffic stop. We are looking at the number of occupants in the vehicle and if they are making any suspicious movements. After we turn on the overhead lights to make the traffic stop, we are observing the occupants and their movements and behaviors. When we approach the vehicle, we are observing the occupants and their movements and behaviors. We are always monitoring behaviors and movements and hands.

The best thing to do when getting pulled over by a police officer is to not make any suspicious movements and to keep your hands in sight. I always recommend to people to wait until the officer has made person-to-person contact with them before they obtain their driver’s license, insurance and registration. I also recommend that drivers keep both hands on the steering wheel and passengers to keep their hands on the dashboard or top of the seat (if in the back) when the officer approaches. When drivers or occupants start leaning over and/or reaching for things (such as documents in the glove box or the wallet/purse under the seat) police officers can become concerned for their safety. One of the first things that goes through an officer’s mind when something like that happens is “are they reaching for a gun or other weapon to try and hurt me?” Try and put yourself in the officer’s shoes and imagine how you would react to a situation like that. It can be unnerving at times.

The best thing, of course, is to not break any laws that would result in a police officer pulling you over in the first place. Drive safe, slow down, don’t text/make calls when you drive, wear your seat belt, and don’t drink and drive. Stay safe out there.

— Officer Jeff Oliver



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