Police officers say when they're distracted, it's dangerous to everyone in the area, and while officers are trained to always be aware of their surroundings, public interference can increase the risk of something going wrong.
Inver Grove Heights police dashcam video shows Officer Kasey Schrandt pulling over a driver in a parking lot. He's about to write a ticket for a minor traffic violation. Then, out of nowhere, comes a white Buick driven by 84-year-old James Wallaker, who proceeds to yell at the officer to "shut that doggone light off!"
Officer Schrandt seems distracted and exasperated, but calmly finishes writing the ticket. He eventually chases down, Wallaker and cites him for obstructing the legal process.
Wallaker told Fox 9 he didn't believe he was obstructing the legal process.
In the incident report, Officer Schrandt said, "The subject I stopped could have fled or exited the vehicle to harm me without me noticing because I had to deal with Wallaker."
Brooklyn Center Police Commander Tony Gruenig said officers being distracted during traffic stops is a genuine safety concern, and it happens frequently.
"The police need to have a safe environment to work in, and people coming to it, we don't know if they're related to the suspects or just onlookers," he said.
Teachers at the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Education Center in Brooklyn Park are always emphasizing traffic stops are never routine. Ever since Mendota Heights Police Officer Scott Patrick was murdered during a traffic stop, the school's director, Mylan Masson, a former Minneapolis police officer, is preaching caution more than ever.
"I don't think people thought, ‘Oh I can't back away from this. I've already started it.' No, you can. Back away, rethink see what's going on so you don't get hurt," Masson said.
While no one was hurt in the Inver Grove Heights incident, it's a reminder of the risks officers take each day, and how the public can complicate the situation.