Thinking about a Traffic Stop

Here’s part of a news account about a traffic stop. What information would you have to change, add, or delete if you were writing this incident up as a police report? Make a list, and then scroll down to see my list of suggestions.

An officer stopped Smith for reckless driving. Smith, allegedly smelling of alcohol, sitting in his running car, refused to exit the car to participate in a field sobriety test. After police used a Taser twice to bring him into custody, Smith became enraged, hitting his head and face against the roof of the police car. Then, as blood began to run down Smith’s nose into his mouth, he spat blood at several officers, telling them he had AIDS and Hepatitis C. Smith was charged with DUI and resisting arrest.

Here are the points you’d need to think about:

  • This is a Type 4 report (the officer initiates the action). That means you need to establish probable cause by describing exactly what Smith was doing on the road (such as crossing the center line, weaving, going through a stop sign)
  • Alcohol is odorless, so you’d have to say that Smith smelled of “liquor” or an “alcoholic beverage”
  • Omit “became enraged” (an opinion) and stick to what you saw and heard: “Smith did not move after I twice told him to exit the car for a sobriety test” or “Smith told me that I could go to hell after I twice told him to exit the car for a sobriety test”
  • Other details about what you saw and heard at the scene should include these facts: Smith hit his head and face against the roof of the police car. Officers used a Taser twice. Blood ran down Smith’s nose and into his mouth. Smith spat blood at several officers. Smith said he had AIDS and Hepatitis C. 
  • “Smith was charged” is passive voice: You need to state who arrested him (a point that might be important if there’s a court hearing)

How did you do? Traffic Stop black trooper

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