Every East Texas driver, at some point or another, has said to themselves during a routine traffic stop, "Doesn't this police officer have something more important to do, like bust criminals?"
Routine--It's a word police officers don't use lightly, but one we use to describe your everyday traffic stop. And sometimes, we question that routine.
"We're no there to harrass you, we are there to do our job," says DPS Trooper Jean Steely. "That's what the citizens of this state pay us for."
Troopers like Steely make countless traffic stops a year. Most are what we consider routine. Speeding... Expired plates... Broken tail lights... Routine, right?
"People who haul dope," explains Steely, "people who participate in criminal activities, also have tail lights that might be out, that also might have license plates that are expired."
In fact, most big drug busts come as a result of routine traffic stops.
"That is where your training and experience comes in to play," says Steely. "If you sense that something is not quite right, it's something that you can ask a few more questions about."
Routine traffic stops are credited with nailing a man with $500,000 of meth on I-20, $10,000 worth of marijuana in Canton, and $100,000 worth of marijuana in Rusk County.
"I had stopped a vehicle in the panhandle when I was working there," explains Steely, "where you could smell the odor of burned marijuana in the car. As it turned out they were fugitives on the run from California, who were wanted in connection with the growth and cultivation of marijuana in California. They are now spending the next nine years in a penitentary."
The list of big drug and fugitive busts in East Texas is endless, as is the type of person breaking the law, which makes it impossible for a police officer to zero in on a specific profile.
"There's not one specific typ car that you look for. There's not one specific type person. You catch retirees hauling hundreds of pounds of marijuana in RV's, to college students who might have one or two pounds in a rental or in their personal car, or in their parents car. So there's no one specific thing you are looking for."
So keep that in mind, the next time you see the red and blue lights pulling someone over for a routine traffic stop.
"Just understand, it's never anything personal, it's just the job."