RPD June 3 “high-risk” traffic stop

Council and Mayor:

I apologize for the length of this email, but I wanted to go into detail.  For those not needing detail – summary is that last night RPD conducted a high-risk traffic stop on a vehicle.  An airsoft gun that looked like a handgun was, tossed from the vehicle was recovered and the driver was arrested.   The stop was done in conformance with standard police procedures.  More details below:

Many of you have likely seen video circulating on social media involving a high-risk traffic stop in Rochester.  I have met with Chief Franklin and others at RPD, as well as reviewed the video.   I also met with Lt. Penning, who is in charge of RPD training to discuss how RPD trains high-risk stops.  The facts of the incident are as follows:

1.       RPD received a call from Wabasha County about a vehicle where a driver pointed a handgun at another vehicle.  A witness observed this and followed the vehicle south on 63 toward Rochester.   Rochester PD located the vehicle and conducted a high-risk stop (more on that below).

2.       The vehicle had four occupants, a male driver and three females.   All of the occupants were turned over to Wabasha County SO for their investigation. 

3.       The male driver was arrested and charged with making terroristic threats. 

4.       A witness observed this same vehicle throw a gun out the window shortly before the stop.  The gun was tied to the driver of the vehicle.  Since this is a Wabasha investigation, we do not have more details.   At the time of the stop, RPD did not know a gun was thrown out the window.  Even if they knew this information, a high-risk stop is warranted.  I learned right before sending this email the weapon was an airsoft gun that looked like a handgun.   This was not known at the time of the stop.  

There are some questions about the “show of force – number of officers and weapons brandished”.   I met with Lt. Penning and RPD uses what I consider to be universal tactics in making a high-risk stop.   These types of traffic stops are done anytime officers have reasonable suspicion that the occupants of the vehicle had used a weapon during the course of a crime, or some other felony level criminal activity occurred (they used to be called “felony stops”). 

I reviewed the video circulated and body camera video.   I found the stop to be “textbook” and thought the officers involved did an excellent job.  High-risk traffic stops involve:

1.       A minimum of four cars are needed (if available).  Ideally, you want at least eight with four people in the vehicle.  Car one stops at a safe distance behind the driver’s side of the vehicle and car two stops on the passenger side behind the vehicle.   Cars three and four stop behind one and two.   Additional cars fan out and provide support as detailed below.

2.       Car one instructs the driver to put hands out of the window, open the door from the outside and slowly walk out.  Once outside the suspect is instructed to lift his/her shirt and turn 360 degrees then slowly walk back to the officers (Officers from cars 5-8 are unarmed, waiting to cuff the individual).  Car one repeats for back passenger.  Then car two repeats for passengers on their side. 

3.       While this is occurring, cars three and four are considered “over watch”.  Their job is to hold rifles (either low ready or high ready – both are acceptable in my opinion).  

4.       In my experience if a police officer calls out a high-risk stop, every available officer in the area responds.  Additional units work crowd control and assist with taking individuals into custody or transporting.  

This procedure is best practice and in my opinion was used appropriately.  

Jason Loos, Rochester City Attorney

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