Officers routinely find risk at traffic stops - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Officers routinely find risk at traffic stops

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FISHERS -

The shooting of an IMPD officer during a traffic stop this week has other officers remembering the routine risks of their job.

The incident is also a reminder to drivers about what to expect if you're pulled over.

As the sun set Thursday, Fishers Police Ofc. Cesar Rodriguez's alert level was rising.

"Any weapons in the vehicle sir? No guns? No knives?" Rodriguez asked a driver he pulled over for weaving in his lane.

Rodriguez is running one of the riskiest operations police conduct - a traffic stop.

"No traffic stop is the same," he said. "and there is no routine traffic stop."

IMPD officers were reminded of that Tuesday night. A car pulled over for running a stop sign led to shots fired. Officer Bryan Zotz was hurt, the suspect was killed.

Last year, gunfire at traffic stops was the second-leading cause of violent death for officers nationwide.

Officer Rodriguez's first traffic stop of the night Thursday was just a license plate problem. But still, he says, "you've always got to approach everything with extra caution."

Eyewitness News watched from his car as he approached the car he pulled over. The officer cautiously checked the windows to count heads in the back of the car.

And the driver?

"Keep their hands on the steering wheel or their lap, whatever it is. So you can see their hands," Rodriguez said.

A few miles down the road, his second stop.

"Would you mind putting your cigarette out so I can see your hands?" he asks the driver.

He learns the driver's license is suspended, just like the situation in Indianapolis the night of the shooting two evenings earlier.

"Just for my safety and yours," he tells the driver, "I'm gonna have you keep your hands on the steering wheel for me."

Still not sure what he's got here, he calls for backup.

"I have somebody watching my back as well," said Rodriguez.

The backup officer talks to the suspect while officer Rodriguez writes the ticket. Then, the unexpected.

"Go ahead and step out of the car," he instructs.

But about that time, he sees the man reach for a pocket. The sudden move gets the officer's full attention.

"Keep your hands on top of your head for me, just like that," he tells the young man as he prepares to frisk him.

No threats were found.

"If someone is not complying, you've got to ask why are they not complying with you. And that increases the risk level a little bit," says the officer. "Are they reaching for a weapon, or just reaching for their registration?"

"Just keep an eye on him," he asks his backup.

Rodriguez's eyes - his awareness - are an officer's first weapon.

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