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FROM THE ADMINISTRATOR : Complete Traffic Stops

Otis Cox, Deputy Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington D.C.

or the past two years, personal and homeland security concerns have dominated the landscape for most Americans. For its part, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has redoubled its efforts to improve the safety and security of our nation's highways. Law enforcement agencies nationwide have played major roles in working collaboratively with NHTSA to help ensure the success of that effort.

At NHTSA, our challenge is to help the law enforcement community address traffic safety issues, without compromising its responsibilities for criminal enforcement and security. This is why we work with the IACP and other law enforcement organizations to promote the concept of the complete traffic stop.

Traffic law enforcement benefits can go far beyond the traffic stop. Proper scrutiny of traffic offenders often leads to significant arrests for criminal and terrorist related activities. Reports from law enforcement agencies are replete with incidents where officers have seized stolen vehicles and stolen merchandise, made drug and weapon possession and trafficking charges, and uncovered evidence of child abuse-all in the course of traffic enforcement. In areas of homeland security, alert officers have identified undocumented aliens and vehicles carrying explosives and large amounts of cash that could lead to acts of terrorism. For example, in a single two-week period in December 2002, during a statewide safety belt enforcement mobilization in Georgia, police apprehended 976 fugitives and made 736 felony arrests and 899 drug arrests. Traffic stops also have helped law enforcement agencies gather intelligence on a wide range of issues associated with terrorist activities.

In support of this concept, NHTSA developed the national training program Conducting Complete Traffic Stops. NHTSA provides training to police academy and law enforcement agency instructors throughout the county to conduct this course. The training program will ensure that constitutional and statutory safeguards are preserved for the rights of citizens, the prescriptions of case law, and the sanctioned policies and practices of law enforcement agencies. By following proper procedures, police protect the rights of innocent drivers and passengers. At the same time, the procedures will be in place to ensure and protect our ability to legally prosecute offenders. This training program is available to law enforcement agencies by request through the respective NHTSA regional offices.

At NHTSA, we have always said that traffic enforcement is law enforcement. Embracing this fundamental concept is the responsibility of law enforcement leadership at every level. Conducting complete traffic stops should be part of your everyday patrol emphasis. If you commit to this philosophy, officers will be better positioned to provide overall security protection, with the potential of stopping suspected terrorists.

The law enforcement community has always played a central role in helping NHTSA implement its initiatives in traffic safety. Enforcement of traffic safety laws is crucial to the mission of reducing deaths and injuries on our highways. This includes, for example, recent support of our impaired driving crackdown (You Drink & You Drive. You Lose.) and our occupant protection mobilizations (Click It or Ticket). Not to be overlooked is the attention law enforcement gives the problem of speeding and reckless or aggressive driving behaviors that threaten the public safety. NHTSA studies have consistently shown that high-visibility enforcement efforts combined with public education initiatives can reduce the number of crash-related deaths and injuries on our roadways. Law enforcement officers nationwide have helped us launch a comprehensive attack on these problems.

The sobering issue to all of us involved in the promotion of public safety is that many departments are facing major budget shortfalls, resulting in multiple and often competing demands for the time of law enforcement officers and other valuable resources. Responsibilities in the area of homeland security are compounding problems in other areas as well. For example, a large number of law enforcement officers are being called up to serve their country as military reservists.

The key to a successful nationwide homeland security program is for law enforcement agencies to manage, and at times exceed, the expectations of the communities they serve. That often requires education and outreach efforts on the part of law enforcement. In the long run, the public's realistic expectations will enable law enforcement agencies to perform optimally and, more importantly, increase the community's sense of security in the face of imminent terrorist threats.

September 11, 2001, awakened many Americans to the difficulties of providing services necessary to make the public feel safe on the nation's streets and highways. We realize that our law enforcement agency partners provide the best protection possible in the face of mounting service challenges and budget pressures. Americans now realize the vital role law enforcement officers have in carrying out the public trust to provide safety and security. Meeting those challenges will take determination, creativity, and, above all, leadership. We thank you for your continued leadership in the area of traffic enforcement. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 9, September 2003. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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