A coworker mentioned a little tidbit the other day and I figured I’d bring it over here for fact checking. He stated that any time a Police Officer pulled a car over, it was procedure to touch the vehicle. The reasoning being: If things went bad, there would be latent prints tying the car to the incident.
Yes, it’s a standard practice that is taught at many acadamies and agencies across the country. Whether it has ever come in handy or helped solve a crime is a completely other thing. But it’s still practiced, regardless.
If you pay close attention the next time you’re watching COPS, you’ll occassionally see an officer do it.
Here is a training video where the officer explains the technique. He also includes the second reason (which I purposely excluded from my previous post because it is even more worthless, but it is in fact a reason often repeated). It is to ensure the trunk is closed so that nobody can jump out of it and ambush the cop. But that’s just ridiculous since almost every car on the road has the ability to open the trunk from the inside now. So a fully closed trunk would not prevent this.
As the others say it is a technique that is used by some. I personally don’t don’t do it and I have never heard of of a time when it came in handy. Trunk releases are controlled by the driver and by the time I get up to the car I have already called out the plate to dispatch. And I’m on tape. Having my prints on the car does nothing helpful as far as I can tell. Its more because some old-timers once said thats what you are supposed to do. We don’t use six shooters any more either. there is no need to continue with tactics from a bygone era.
I’ve seen cops do it. In fact I looked it up online a few months ago when a cop did it in front of my house. Here’s the scenario that makes sense to me:
You pull someone over, touch their brake light, as you get up to the door, they take off (maybe even hitting you). After they’ve lost you and have some time, they swap plates with another similar car. You pull that car over because the tags match, but release them due to a solid alibi for the car’s whereabouts.
Later, someone tracks down the original car, the original occupants and find your finger prints on the brake light, which helps to prove it was the same car from earlier.
Now, likely they’d only go through all this trouble if the officer was injured so it’s a pretty narrow set of circumstances, but all it requires is touching the back of the car. It’s such a small thing to do, so why not. No paperwork, no extra leg work, literally just lifting your hand.
Anyways, the moral of the story is, if you run down a cop, be sure to wipe down the back of your car afterwards.
Having said all that, I wonder how many times it’s actually come in helpful. OR, I wonder how many times it would have come in helpful, but the fingerprints weren’t there.
Even without a deliberate effort to obliterate fingerprints, though, they’re not going to stay readable for long, especially not for something that gets out and about in the environment like a car does.
But that is why it was being taught. Since 1982 I was taught to lightly push the trunk to make sure it’s closed. They’re still teaching this, with the advice about the trunk being able to be opened from the inside or with a remote.
A couple of years ago during an in-service training session the instructor had a suspect at a traffic stop scenario open the trunk from inside the car to see if the officer would hear the click.
No kidding. I always wondered how that incompetent SOB kept getting elected D.A.!