Popular Traffic Investigation and DRE expert, Officer Mike Piacenza, returned for week seven to instruct members of the Pinellas Park Citizen’s Police Academy class on the subject of crash investigations and traffic stop scenarios.
During the first hour, Officer Piacenza, a 17-year veteran of the department, covered the many details and responsibilities involving a vehicular crash site investigation. Using on-screen visual examples of charts and diagrams, Piacenza walked the class through the various stages of investigating a crash scene by a responding officer from positioning the patrol vehicle, looking for hazardous materials and securing the crash site to checking for injuries, managing and preserving the scene, calling for additional assistance and restoring traffic.
In the event of a more serious accident involving a serious injury or fatality, Officer Piacenza explained the importance of securing the crash site and properly collecting evidence that could be used later to settle insurance claims for damage and injury as well as establishing cause and subsequent prosecution for the driver causing the accident.
The remainder of the class was conducted “in the field” using and observing the various tools at the disposition of traffic officers to document traffic violations. Class members were offered the opportunity to use both the radar detector and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) hand-held recording devices to determine vehicle speed.
One of the most interesting parts of the class took place when Pinellas Park Police Volunteers Zandra Pearson and Dave Bench, took on the roles of suspects allowing class members to act out three separate traffic stop scenarios. Harvey Smith, Idalia Azcona and Dan Roun acted out the part of the responding officer with instructional “back-up” and guidance coming from Officer Piacenza.
Each scenario involved the safety techniques followed by officers during several situations facing officers during an emotionally charged traffic stop for both officer and driver. Traffic stops can range from a seemingly innocent and simple response to a traffic violation to a more dangerous incident involving drugs, alcohol or criminal activity requiring officers to quickly evaluate and respond situations as they unfold.
Each “acting officer” was critiqued on his and her response making it abundantly clear of the difficulties faced by officers each time they make a stop regardless of the reason. What appears to be a normal situation can quickly evolve into a deadly confrontation endangering the lives of the officer, driver and passengers. A better understanding of the other side of the traffic stop by citizens will hopefully lead to safer conditions for everyone involved.