The contact and cover technique is used by officers during traffic stops and is useful in almost any situation where they are dealing with suspects and witnesses. The purpose of the technique is to deter a situation from getting out of control and to improve the officers' safety by having one officer in a constant state of preparation to act in the event that the situation does get out of control.
During a police traffic stop, the role of the contact officer is to do almost everything. This officer will speak with suspects and witnesses, search suspects and vehicles, make any arrests, file the police report and run any record checks for license status or outstanding warrants. The contact officer is responsible for the custody of any confiscated evidence. She is the only of the two officers who should undertake any of these activities, including any verbal communication with anyone present.
The role of the cover officer is to simply watch patiently from a physical position of advantage. There may be more than one cover officer; if there are, they each have the same responsibilities: to silently stand guard. The cover officer should be watching for any suspicious activity on the part of suspects or witnesses. Particularly, they are concerned with any attempt by suspects to destroy or dispose of evidence, to flee the scene or to assault the contact officer while she is pursuing her duties.
The purpose of this arrangement is to prevent and discourage the suspects from undertaking the actions that the cover officer is watching for: an attack, tampering with evidence or running from the scene. The cover officer serves not only as a deterrent against these actions because never are all officers otherwise distracted, but also to be available to act quickly if they do. A cover officer must maintain a state of readiness to get involved if any suspect tries to flee or if violence breaks out.
The most common pitfall with the contact and cover technique is the cover officer breaking out of his role. Police officers are trained to act. They may want to get involved, to point out something they believe the contact officer has missed, to calm a witness or communicate with a suspect. If the cover officer remains in the field car, he may be tempted to talk to headquarters on the radio, make a personal call or review a police file on hand. Unfortunately, any of these actions work to the detriment of the technique. The cover officer must fight off his boredom and maintain a watchful eye and a readiness to act.
Contact or Cover?
In most scenarios, which officer adopts which role is irrelevant as long as the roles are executed properly. However, if one officer is acquainted with a suspect, it is better that she be the contact officer to reduce the temptation to communicate with suspects she knows as the cover officer. For the same reason, if only one of the two officers speak the primary language of a suspect, that officer should adopt the role of contact.
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