Multiple attacks on officers this week illustrate the inherent dangers of traffic stops

Jan 29, 2022, 5:02 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 3:21 pm
A Houston-area deputy was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Sunday, January 23. (KTRK via CN...
A Houston-area deputy was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Sunday, January 23. (KTRK via CNN) MS 17901956
(KTRK via CNN)

(CNN) — At least five law enforcement officers were seriously injured during traffic stops across America over the last week — four by gunfire — leading to the death of one sheriff’s deputy.

A motorist dragged a Philadelphia police officer for five blocks while attempting to flee after the officer spotted a gun in the car. A man pulled over by a Houston-area deputy over the weekend shot the deputy to death. A man emerged from a garbage can and shot a Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputy during a search for someone who fled a traffic stop. In Georgia, a sheriff’s deputy was shot in the chest during a stop — their vest stopped the round. And in California a deputy was shot and wounded by a passenger who had fled a traffic stop. The deputy returned fire, killing the passenger.

Law enforcement experts say the attacks this week highlight the risks inherent to the job of policing, even if they aren’t evidence of a growing trend. Elsewhere, three officers were shot in Houston while trying to apprehend a carjacking suspect, and two were killed last week in New York responding to a domestic disturbance.

“Officers being shot and killed and seriously injured doing stops is nothing new, any more than officers responding to domestic violence calls being shot and killed. They’re both considered statistically a high-risk category in what we do,” said Thor Eells, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association. “It’s a tragedy, and it has been.”

It can take weeks or months of incidents like this before it emerges as a trend in data sources, and because there are so few shootings of police officers relative to the number of people shot across the country, a single shooting with multiple officers as victims or a handful of assaults on officers can temporarily skew trend lines.

What’s more, non-gunfire injuries are even more difficult to track, and not captured by any timely national data source. Those injuries are more routine and less likely to be surfaced by local and national news outlets and can be just as debilitating.

But more officers were killed last year while working than any other year since 1995, excluding the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Gunfire has consistently been the leading cause of felonious officer deaths each year, according to preliminary year-end data provided to CNN by the FBI.

The FBI has not released its full end-of-year breakdown but reported that 55 officers were killed by gunfire in 2021 through the end of November, up from 39 in the same time frame in both 2020 and 2019.

The 73 felonious deaths reported by the FBI in 2021 are a 59% increase from 2020’s total of 46, breaking the previous high of 72 felonious killings in 2011. According to the FBI, at least eight police officers also lost their lives in premeditated, ambush-style attacks last year.

Eells said the reason traffic stops are dangerous is because of the “unknown” officers are approaching. There are some things that can lessen risk — like positioning of a squad car or illuminating the inside of the stopped car — but officers can’t eliminate risk.

“I can’t approach every call with gun drawn and be proning you out. We know that. For a lot of reasons, we can’t do that. When you approach that car, gun’s not out unless you have a really good reason,” he said. “You’re going to approach car as (if it’s) a normally law-abiding citizen who, for whatever reason, committed a traffic violation … tactically speaking, we’re at a disadvantage. Most everything you’re going to do is going to be reactive to the behavior of the person you’re contacting. There’s very little proactive (that) we can do.”

Traffic stops are not without controversy. Black drivers are also more likely to be stopped by police, and in big cities, police are more likely to be assigned to Black communities with elevated rates of gun violence. Calls for change typically follow high-profile use of force by an officer during a stop for a minor violation that’s escalated to a more serious crime by either a non-compliant motorist or new information that arises during the stop.

The attorney general in Virginia opened an investigation into a police department after a driver was pepper sprayed during a stop. Just outside Minneapolis, a jury convicted an officer of manslaughter after she mistook her gun for a Taser and shot to death Daunte Wright, who was trying to evade arrest on a warrant. In Ohio, critics expressed outrage over police officers dragging a Black paraplegic man out of his car during a traffic stop, though the officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing relating to the stop and use of force during the arrest.

Some advocates have called for ending the use of police officers for traffic enforcement. In Philadelphia, the city banned officers from doing traffic stops for some low-level offenses. The town outside Minneapolis where Wright was killed created an “unarmed traffic enforcement unit.” But there has been widespread adoption of policies that take police officers out of enforcing traffic laws, or enforcing other laws during traffic stops.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

FILE: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon July 21,...
TARA COPP, Associated Press

Keep COVID military vaccine mandate, defense chief says

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is making clear he wants to keep the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place to protect the health of the troops.
1 day ago
(Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)...
Brian Fung, CNN

Released Twitter emails show how employees handled 2020 New York Post Hunter Biden story

Elon Musk teased Twitter users a few days ago with the promise of information on Twitter's content moderation policies, now known as the "Twitter Files."
1 day ago
The former Utah man and pilot, Dan Ragan....

Utah resident remembers pilot killed in Dallas Air Show crash

The former Utah man who tragically passed away in a deadly air show crash in Texas is being remembered by neighbors and friends. 
1 day ago
Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, a driver working for FedEx was arrested and charged in the kidnapping and k...
Tina Burnside, CNN

Texas FedEx driver is arrested in the kidnapping and killing of a 7-year-old girl

A driver working for FedEx was arrested and charged Friday in the kidnapping and killing of a 7-year-old girl who had disappeared from her home's driveway in Texas earlier this week, police said.
1 day ago
Noodle, the pug, is held....
Zoe Sottile, CNN

Noodle, the TikTok-famous ‘bones or no bones’ pug, has died

(CNN) — Noodle, the geriatric pug who captured hearts across the internet for his “bones or no bones” ritual, has died at age 14, his owner says. Jonathan Graziano, Noodle’s owner, announced that his beloved dog died on Friday, in a tearful update posted to his TikTok and Instagram. “This is incredibly sad, it’s incredibly […]
1 day ago
Rapper Takeoff with a microphone...

Man arrested in fatal shooting of Migos rapper Takeoff

Police in Texas have announced an arrest in last month's shooting death of the performer Takeoff. Houston police said Friday that 33-year-old Patrick Xavier Clark was charged with murder and has been arrested in connection with the rapper's death. Born Kirsnick Khari Ball, Takeoff was the youngest member of Migos, the Grammy-nominated rap trio from suburban Atlanta that also featured his uncle Quavo and cousin Offset. Police have said the 28-year-old was fatally shot outside a bowling alley after a private party. Police said Friday that the shooting followed a dispute over a game of dice, but that Takeoff was not involved and was an innocent bystander.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Multiple attacks on officers this week illustrate the inherent dangers of traffic stops