Traffic Stops and Drawn Guns

We need to rethink traffic stops.

I will say from the beginning, I am not an expert on law enforcement. I don’t have specific, tested recommendations. about how to fix the issues I am discussing herein. Further, I have family who are first responders who deal with very difficult members of the public, so am aware that none of this is easy. Still, I can’t read stories like this (and see the video below) and not say to myself that this is not what citizens in a democracy ought to expect from law enforcement.

Via ABC News, Lawsuit: Virginia police officers threatened man during stop

In a perfect world (or maybe just one without the US’ history of very bad, indeed tragic, encounters between law enforcement and Black citizens) we could all step back and say: well, maybe the driver did something provocative that justified a heightened response from the officers. After all, we shouldn’t render judgment without all the facts. And, of course, that is exactly what should happen in court.

But.

BUT.

But, we know better from recent (and long-term) history. See my post from May of last year: Thinking about the Injustice that Feeds the Flame. (Also this podcast recommendation).

Further, if we just take what we see in the video I think we have enough to say there is a massive problem here:

Body camera footage shows Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, was dressed in uniform with his hands held in the air outside the driver’s side window as he told the armed officers, “I’m honestly afraid to get out.”

“Yeah, you should be!” one of the officers responded during the stop at a gas station.

This speaks to a theme that constantly emerges in these discussions: the fact that the police often do not attempt to deescalate. To my untrained eye and ear, it always seems like they are either trained or enculturated (or both) into a domineering, bullying approach.

Let’s step back: Nazario is in his car, hands raised through the window, and very calmly tells the officer that he is afraid to get out of his car. The officer responds “Yeah, you should be!”

One would like to think (although I suppose one would be naive to do so) that given all that transpired in 2020, law enforcement officers would be trained to recognize how Black male motorists, in particular, might be wary and frightened at being stopped by police.

Here the treatment that proceeded after the video clip above: tear-gassing, being drug from the car, and being handcuffed and struck.

The officers then attempted to pull Nazario out of the vehicle while he continued to keep his hands in the air. Gutierrez then stepped back and pepper-sprayed Nazario multiple times as officers yelled for him to get out of the car.

“I don’t even want to reach for my seatbelt, can you please? … My hands are out, can you please — look, this is really messed up,” Nazario stammered upon being pepper-sprayed, his eyes clenched shut.

The officers shouted conflicting orders at Nazario, telling him to put his hands out the window while also telling him to open the door and get out, the lawsuit says. At one point, Gutierrez told Nazario he was “fixin’ to ride the lightning,” a reference to the electric chair which was also a line from the movie “The Green Mile,” a film about a Black man facing execution.

Nazario got out of the vehicle and again asked for a supervisor. Gutierrez responded with “knee-strikes” to his legs, knocking him to the ground, the lawsuit says. The two officers struck him multiple times, then handcuffed and interrogated him.

All of this, by the way, started because of tinted windows and car tags. And then because Nazario drove to a well-lit location for the stop, the officer who saw the lack of tags and the tinted windows called in the stop as a “high-risk traffic stop” because the suspect was “eluding police.”

Note the following plot-twist: ends up the car did have tags.

It would seem reasonable, from a training point of view, to accommodate the possibility that a motorist is seeking a public place for a traffic stop if the motorist is not trying to engage in a high-speed chase.

It strikes me as wholly rational that a Black male in particular, would not want to be stopped in the middle of nowhere by the police.

Indeed, one of the officers seems well acquainted with the phenomenon:

Another officer, Joe Gutierrez, was driving by when he heard Crocker’s call, saw him attempting to stop the SUV and decided to join the traffic stop. Gutierrez acknowledged that Nazario’s decision to drive to a lighted area happens to him “a lot, and 80% of the time, it’s a minority,” Arthur said, quoting the officer.

So, the officer who told Nazario that he “should be” afraid was familiar with the notion the minority motorists might seek out a lighted location for a traffic stop escalated the situation.

Side note: if Nazario was actually planning an ambush of the officer who initially sought to pull him over, would he not have done so in the middle of nowhere, rather than at a well-lit gas station?

All of this reminds me, unfortunately, of a post I wrote back in August: Should Noncompliance be a Capital Offense?

let’s not mince words-if the police are allowed to use deadly force simply because a person does not comply (especially when running away) then what else are we going to call this than allowing the police to execute a suspect?

If one’s view is:  “he should have complied!” is enough to justify summary execution without trial, then that is what you are supporting.

Recognizing that there are moments in which law enforcement will have to use force, even deadly force, the reality is that we are at a place where simple noncompliance brings escalation to deadly force far too quickly and easily, especially when black males are involved.

Thankfully, Nazario is alive. (Although his attorney suggests he is not well). But the bottom line of this incident, and countless others we likely unaware of, is that very small things (e.g., selling individual cigarettes, passing a fake twenty, having tinted windows and no tags, etc) can lead law enforcement to take any kind of noncompliance as license to deploy violence and to treat citizens who have done very little (or nothing at all) as though they are the gravest of threats.

There is something very wrong with this situation and we, as a society, still don’t seem to be working hard enough to figure out a solution.

And, of course, there is the reality that officers do have reason to be fearful when making stops, and that is because the odds that any given person stopped might be armed. This is part of our broader gun problem in the United States that we don’t want to really own up to and address.

Quite frankly, if officers really do think that traffic stops are so inherently dangerous that this level of escalation could be regularly necessary, then maybe we need to rethink traffic stops in general.

Tinted windows and maybe tagless cars are not worth anyone’s life.

FILED UNDER: Police, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Police officers are programmed in the academy with the idea that traffic stops (like domestic violence calls) are inherently more dangerous than any other kind of incident.

    I’ll never forget a police chief I once interviewed telling me that:”All crime evolves from wheels,” meaning that crime entails a motor vehicle.

    Some of these cops are just violent rogue cowboys looking to be heroes.

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  2. Hal_10000 says:

    Radley Balko wrote a great article this week about the different approaches to law enforcement. He calls them the “de-escalationists” — those who try to keep situations calm and under control — and the “no-hesitationists” — the ones who think they need to be overly aggressive. I would call the later the “Respect My Authoritah!” brigade.

    For the last thirty years — even as murder plunged, even as assaults on cops plunged, even as policing stopped being one of the most dangerous professions and became the safest it has been since we started keeping records — cops have been fed a non-stop mantra. They are in danger, everyone wants to kill them, this is a war, etc. They are given training that the military would reject as overly aggressive. And there is no accountability, thanks to QI and politicians who genuflect to the police unions on every occasion. It’s to the point where even Obama’s extremely mild criticisms were branded as “vile anti-cop rhetoric” that was going to get police killed. Every year, we hear about a “War on Cops” that doesn’t actually exist.

    Race is a problem, yes, but it where the problems of policing are most manifest. If police are trained to respond with force, trained to see civilians as the enemy, put on a hair-trigger and given no accountability, it’s bad for everyone and especially bad on minorities. Think of it mathematically:

    Chance of police encounter going bad == (number of interactions with police) x (propensity to go into respect my authoritah mode) x (racial bias).

    Getting rid of that third factor is very hard and I don’t trust the grifters who claim they can do it. Doing about those first two factors is not easy, but it’s easier and there are more agreed-upon solutions. Have fewer stupid laws to enforce, hire social workers to deal with mental health issues, abolish QI, forbid “bulletproof warrior” style training, emphasize de-escalation.

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  3. Paine says:

    There was a story a number of years ago in Seattle of a young driver getting pulled over by the police who – following his parents’ advice – drove to a well-lit area to stop instead of pulling over immediately. The cop wanted to charge him with evasion but after a bit of pushback the offense was dropped.

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  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    Guns.

    Guns are why American cops are paranoid. Guns are why there’s some element of truth to the paranoia. The absence of guns in civilian hands is why this doesn’t happen in any other advanced country.

    It’s guns, it’s always going to be guns, and we aren’t going to do a damned thing about it because guns are freedom, dontcha know. I mean, watch the video: that’s freedom!

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  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And, of course, there is the reality that officers do have reason to be fearful when making stops, and that is because the odds that any given person stopped might be armed. This is part of our broader gun problem in the United States that we don’t want to really own up to and address.

    Quite frankly, if officers really do think that traffic stops are so inherently dangerous that this level of escalation could be regularly necessary, then maybe we need to rethink traffic stops in general.

    Nothing against you Steven, but I am tired of hearing/seeing this lie repeated. I have a niece who married a cop and I almost blew an aneurysm trying not to laugh when her mother said, “You don’t know what it’s like saying goodbye and not knowing if you’ll ever see him again.” It’s a load of horseshit. I give you Top 25 most dangerous jobs in the United States

    #1 Logging workers
    #2 Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
    #3 Derrick operators in oil, gas, and mining
    #4 Roofers
    #5 Garbage collectors- That’s right, picking up people’s garbage is more dangerous than being a cop
    #6 Ironworkers
    #7 Delivery drivers- Yep, your UPS man is more likely to get killed on the job than a cop.
    #8 Farmers
    #9. Firefighting supervisors
    #10. Power linemen- I had one of my utility poles replaced recently. One of the guys who did it had half his face burned off including both his ears.
    #11. Agricultural workers
    #12. Crossing guards- Yep, Crossing guards.
    #13 Crane operators-
    #14. Construction helpers- I assume they are speaking of apprentices here and they can be as dumb as a box of rocks. Not surprising they are so high.
    #15. Landscaping supervisors- Watching weed pullers is more dangerous than traffic stops.
    #16. Highway maintenance workers- Just watch how people drive thru construction zones.
    #17. Cement masons- I was working a job once where a cement mason got cut in half by the chute when a lumber truck rolled down a hill and crashed into the cement truck.
    #18. Small engine mechanics- Say what???
    #19. Supervisors of mechanics- Say What again???
    #20. Heavy vehicle mechanics- This actually makes sense to me.
    #21. Grounds maintenance workers- Weed pullers again. What is it with them guys?
    #22. Police officers- HEY!!! Finally!!! Cops!

    So the next time somebody tells you how dangerous it is to be a cop, just say, “Bullshit MFer.”

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  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    Just a footnote: In the case where the police are defending a public chamber from intruders, and they order the intruders not to enter or they will be shot – in this case, noncompliance IS a capital offense.

    But that’s rarely the case. It’s non-responsiveness that doesn’t deserve shooting.

    In contrast, while on a cross-country trip towing a U Haul. I was pulled over in Garza County, Texas, by a pair of county sherriff’s deputies. The deputies told me that they had been following me with lights and sirens for 10 miles (The charge was going 76 in a 70mph zone. As an aside, my speedometer read 70, but it is also known to be flaky).

    The deputy told me “well, you didn’t try to escape me” so I was off the hook for that. But they did ticket me for “failure to yield to an emergency vehicle” which was, alas, accurate. They searched the car because they thought I was on weed. I think it was the tie-dye t-shirt I was wearing. I had a nice conversation with the supervisor, who got called in after I went down the road unresponsively for a piece.

    Now, I’m a white guy, and I’m older, and I had my daughter with me, so that probably helped. And one of the deputies appeared to be of Central Asian origin – India, Pakistan, something like that. Maybe that matters. I’m really glad it went better for me than for Nazario, and I hope for the best for him.

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  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Guns are why American cops are paranoid. Guns are why there’s some element of truth to the paranoia. The absence of guns in civilian hands is why this doesn’t happen in any other advanced country.

    This is letting cops off too easily. There’s plenty of other professions who could run into a violent armed person at any moment (social workers, census takers, convenience store clerks, delivery people, etc.) yet we don’t see any of them just randomly shooting unarmed people left and right, nor would society tolerate it if they did.

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  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As far as drawn guns at traffic stops, that only happened to me once. I have very kinky hair and when working outside as I was at that time I get very dark the point of being darker than many black people.

    I’m in this majority black suburb of STL when I get pulled over and this cop gets out of the car yelling at me with his gun half drawn out of the holster. Walks up and sees that my hair is actually blond, I have blue eyes, and very Caucasian features, and his whole demeanor changed. He became very apologetic and basically said, “Never mind, my bad. You can go ahead.” without even running my license.

    I was like, “WTF was that all about?”
    It took a while but it finally hit me: “I just got pulled over for DWB.”

    I’ve been pulled over by cops for being in “the wrong neighborhood” on a number of occasions, but that had never happened to me before or since.

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  9. Scott F. says:

    There is something very wrong with this situation and we, as a society, still don’t seem to be working hard enough to figure out a solution.

    What do you mean ‘we’ as a society?

    I direct you to your ongoing series, “Our Deeply Problematic Institutions,” Steven. Police reform is a popular position, but even modest reforms flounder in our political dystopia. This is a very relevant example of the costs of ‘unrepresentative’ democracy.

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  10. DrDaveT says:

    We need to rethink traffic stops.

    Surely we need to rethink drawn guns more than we need to rethink traffic stops.

    As always, the question to ask those who defend police actions on the grounds that policing is dangerous is “what is the correct ratio of innocent victim deaths to police deaths?”. At what value of “N innocents killed per officer killed” are we getting it right?

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  11. mattbernius says:

    If officers really do think that traffic stops are so inherently dangerous…

    It would seem reasonable, from a training point of view, to accommodate the possibility that a motorist is seeking a public place for a traffic stop if the motorist is not trying to engage in a high-speed chase.

    Historically the reason that many police felt that traffic stops were inherently dangerous wasn’t fear of weapons, it was fear of the traffic that’s continuing to flow around the stop. And that has often been where many police are injured or killed (by other vehicles on the road that don’t see them).

    It’s one of the reasons that many police prefer for the person getting pulled over to a point where there is a well-lit shoulder or parking lot to get the entire thing off the road.

    Beyond that, generally speaking, @Hal_10000 covered most of my points.

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  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @mattbernius: Good point. My sisters cop BiL got hit by a car during a traffic stop. Broke his back iirc. Never worked again.

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  13. dazedandconfused says:

    @Hal_10000:

    To embellish, fear is diabolically self-reinforcing within groups. Officer A doesn’t draw his gun, acts calm, speaks softly, but officer B, indoctrinated in the instant-death scenario’s he has been given in firearm training, after the incident is over screams at officer A: “That guy could have drawn a gun and blown us away in half a second, YOU DAMN NEAR GOT BOTH OF US KILLED!!!”.

    It’s a training issue and one that will take a lot of effort to overcome fear-enhanced habit. Somehow the force protection is priority one attitude has prevailed in LE training over the last few decades. It wasn’t always that way. I attribute much of it to the flood of ex-mil people from our Gulf Wars going into LE after separation.

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  14. Moosebreath says:

    Years ago, I was walking around my suburban neighborhood, talking to a friend on my cell phone, when a copy showed up and demanded to see my ID. When I reached into my pocket for my wallet, he yelled, “Get your hands out of your pocket.”

    I raised my hands and said, very slowly, “You asked to see my ID. It’s in my pocket. Do you want to see it, or don’t you?”

    I got a very nervous laugh in response, which convinced me that if I were black, I would have been shot already.

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  15. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: And close to half of the cops who die on the job do so in traffic accidents. The number who are killed due to violence is higher than in most other jobs but the rate is really, really low—and almost nonexistent in most neighborhoods.

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  16. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    At an event, I was talking with a couple of chief’s of police, right after there was a civilian killed by a cop at a traffic stop. I asked the question, does the prevalence of civilians having guns, make the stops more dangerous? One replied that it was the guns and that when he was young officer, 30 years before, the driver having and willing use a weapon was down your list of concerns. But today… The other chief agreed. It’s the guns.

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  17. gVOR08 says:

    @mattbernius:

    It’s one of the reasons that many police prefer for the person getting pulled over to a point where there is a well-lit shoulder or parking lot to get the entire thing off the road.

    I did that some years ago. I had the updated registration and adhesive tag in the car, but had forgotten to change it. So it was a nothing burger. No shoulder and a curb, so rather than stop in a traffic lane I pulled slowly into a parking lot a couple hundred yards past where he turned on his lights. He gave me a hard time about it. Something incoherent about stopping on private property. Thoroughly confusing as it was the city hall parking lot. I don’t recall if he was a city cop.

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  18. Sleeping Dog says:

    One point about traffic stops, many are unnecessary, they occur for 2 extraneous reasons, to give the officer a chance to check you out and figure out if there are any outstanding violations or reasons to arrest you and for revenue enhancement. Ticket revenue is a significant part of many municipalities budget.

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  19. Gustopher says:

    @DrDaveT:

    “what is the correct ratio of innocent victim deaths to police deaths?”

    3.

    It’s an arbitrary number, but before you reject it, figure out if it is more or less than the current number, and then what level of deference you want to give people who face the risks of police-civilian interactions constantly (police) over those who face the risks sporadically (civilians).

    I would drop the word “innocent” from the question, otherwise the guy selling loose cigarettes was a good kill. “Can be reasonable taken alive” seems like a better standard.

    Currently, the police kill about 1250 people per year, and about 50 are killed by violence per year.

    Without knowing what percentage of those killed by police could have safely not been shot, it’s hard to tell where we are, but unless 1100 were necessary kills, we are way over the 3 unnecessary kills to officer deaths.

    So, 3 seems like a good goal.

    Was that meant to be a rhetorical question?

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  20. Not the IT Dept. says:

    They saw a black guy driving a car and decided to have some fun. Happens all the time. Did those cops strike you as being afraid?

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  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Paine: “but after a bit of pushback…”
    …by parents who were both white and had the means to hire competent legal counsel, I assume. Having someone with the means and motive to go after the officer’s badge is a great tool in resolving these disputes. I wish everyone had such resources.

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  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius: “many police prefer for the person getting pulled over to a point where there is a well-lit shoulder or parking lot to get the entire thing off the road.”

    Not if they’re going to tune up the guy for resisting arrest/insubordination. And especially not a parking lot. They have security cameras lots of times. Body cam malfunction isn’t worth squat in that case.

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  23. @OzarkHillbilly: FWIW, my point was really that guns are quite common and it leads to at least a mental justification of threat.

    Speaking for myself, I would emphasize this sentence from me that you quoted: “Quite frankly, if officers really do think that traffic stops are so inherently dangerous that this level of escalation could be regularly necessary, then maybe we need to rethink traffic stops in general.”

    And would put a lot of emphasis on the word “think.”

    In other words, if they believe it to be dangerous, then maybe stopping people for petty violations isn’t worth it. Or, perhaps, we should rethink how it is done.

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  24. @DrDaveT: Of course–but my point is about rethinking how traffic stops are handled and, as noted, if police really do (rationally or not) fear them, then maybe the overall approach to them ought to be rethought.

    A simple example: maybe the procedure should be to escort the vehicle being pulled over to a well-lit place.

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  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Exactly. But to hear them tell it, they are at war every day, risking their lives for little ol’ us.

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  26. Kurtz says:

    This is going to seem meandering, but I promise there is a point.

    Start with the basic ideas from the Enlightenment as a reaction to the sociopolitical order prior to it.

    If your position sounds more like the ancien regime than liberal governance, then you’re probably on the wrong side of history.

    Private persons have the presumption of innocence. A police officer has given up that presumption by becoming an agent of the state. Currently, we have flipped that on its head–we have granted police officers both the presumption of innocence and as a default, the right to use force against a citizen.

    The net effect has been to require the private citizen to prove both their innocence and show the offending action by the agent of the state was unjustified. In these interactions, due process has become the right of the state, not the citizen.

    Unfortunately, if you let enough citizens eat cake, the concern among the populace is to worry about the supply of flour rather than the principles that increased the supply of cake in the first place.

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  27. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: FWIW, my point was really that guns are quite common and it leads to at least a mental justification of threat.

    I know what you were saying Steven, my point is it’s a load of horsesh*t. The chances of a cop getting shot are pretty damned small, and in some jurisdictions nonexistent. (as James pointed out, far more likely to get hit by a car). They talk themselves into this mindset and it is way overblown. As a carpenter I got injured on more than a few occasions and maybe even almost got my ass killed a time or 2. If I had ever gotten to a point where I was as terrified as some cops seem to be in a traffic stop, I’d have found something else to do.

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  28. @OzarkHillbilly:

    The chances of a cop getting shot are pretty damned small, and in some jurisdictions nonexistent.

    This is going to sound defensive, but it isn’t so much that as just a statement of fact: you are missing my point, if you think that is what I am emphasizing.

    They talk themselves into this mindset and it is way overblown

    I am agreeing with this point, BTW.

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  29. @Steven L. Taylor: Although it may be that I am misunderstanding what you are saying about what I am saying 😉

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  30. Teve says:

    We know from the data that the actual danger doesn’t fit cops’ perception of the danger. So what causes this irrational perception? Do we have a bunch of cops with PTSD who, sensing the slightest possibility of danger, go into 3rd Tour in Iraq mode?

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  31. R. Dave says:

    And, of course, there is the reality that officers do have reason to be fearful when making stops, and that is because the odds that any given person stopped might be armed. This is part of our broader gun problem in the United States that we don’t want to really own up to and address.

    The numbers don’t really seem to support that fear. According to the FBI stats for 2019:

    According to statistics reported to the FBI, 89 law enforcement officers were killed in line-of-duty incidents in 2019. Of these, 48 officers died as a result of felonious acts….

    Circumstances. Of the 48 officers feloniously killed:
    …6 were conducting traffic violation stops

    So, 6 cops in the entire country were killed by the suspect during a traffic stop, out of roughly 20+ million such stops per year (according to a quick Google search), yet that’s supposed to justify or excuse, in even the slightest degree, the kind of intense fear, anger, adrenaline, etc. that we see in videos like this? No way. Anyone who thinks that way should be kept far, far away from LEO work (as well as oversight of LEOs).

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  32. Raoul says:

    NB: Passing a fake twenty is not a minor offense.

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  33. Hal_10000 says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    There was a case up in Pittsburgh, I think, where a military vet came on a guy who had a gun and was clearly trying to commit “suicide by cop”. The officer didn’t draw his gun but talked to him and got him calmed down. Anther cops rolls up, sees the gun and open fire, killing the man. The Department fired hm. Oh, not the cop who shot the man in a mental health crisis; the cop who didn’t. Because they said by not shooting him instantly, he endangered his fellow officers.

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  34. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    I would drop the word “innocent” from the question, otherwise the guy selling loose cigarettes was a good kill.

    Innocent of any capital offense, or of posing an immediate lethal danger.

    Without knowing what percentage of those killed by police could have safely not been shot […]

    I’m reasonably sure that the police would make sure that the body cam footage from the obvious cases of legitimate self-defense would get lots of airplay. We aren’t seeing nearly as many of those as we do Tamir Rice cases.

    Was that meant to be a rhetorical question?

    Only in the sense that it is intended to force the responder to recognize that there is an explicit trade-off being made, and to think about whether it is just.

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  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I am trying to NOT put you on the defensive Steven, and utterly failing. Like I usually do with my clumsy wording.

    you are missing my point, if you think that is what I am emphasizing.

    It is not that you emphasize it Steven, it is that they do.

    They talk themselves into this mindset and it is way overblown

    THIS is the point I am making. I apologize for my not so clear wording that made you think I was arguing with you, when I was only objecting to the reflection of their arguments in your words.

    A side note: I noticed that commercial fisherman didn’t make the list I posted, a fact I missed until my 2nd or 3rd reading of it when they are normally 1 or 2. Seems like an oversight.

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  36. Moosebreath says:

    @Raoul:

    “NB: Passing a fake twenty is not a minor offense.”

    NB: The penalty for passing a fake twenty is not death, in any state.

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  37. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Raoul: Bullshit. A human life is priced at $20? You are broken.

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  38. Teve says:

    Has it been established that he knew it was a fake $20? 10 years ago my mom had a $20 confiscated from her in a store that she swears she took directly from the withdrawal envelope the bank had given her.

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  39. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Teve: That is the question, isn’t it? He was high when he dropped the 20. I doubt he paid much attention. But then, being high is a capitol offense too. Right?

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  40. Kurtz says:

    @Raoul:

    It may not be minor, but it’s certainly not a capital offense. But even then, it’s a denial of due process, which is supposed to be key to legitimate governance.

    Also, the extreme sense of threat by cops is an implicit admission that citizens also have a legitimate fear of police and would thus be justified in avoiding interactions. But running from police is also taken as evidence of guilt, especially in “high crime areas,” which has yet to be defined by the court. (to the best of my knowledge.)

    A little tidbit of a discussion of Terry from Wardlow v. Illinois:

    In Terry v. Ohio, we first recognized “that a police officer may in appropriate circumstances and in an appropriate manner approach a person for purposes of investigating possibly criminal behavior even though there is no probable cause to make an arrest,” 392 U.S., at 22, an authority permitting the officer to “stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes,” Sokolow, 490 U.S., at 7. We approved as well “a reasonable search for weapons for the protection of the police officer, where he has reason to believe that he is dealing with an armed and dangerous individual, regardless of whether he has probable cause to arrest the individual for a crime.”

    [emphasis mine]

    Apparently “appropriate manner” includes threat of lethal force and in some cases contradictory instructions.

    And “reason to believe” is an assumption that every citizen is armed and dangerous and so, is no longer a standard but a broad justification to privilege the state over citizens. Yeah, those conservatives that have pushed these interpretations sure seem skeptical of government power.

    I should note that “high crime area” is probably most commonly defined by the presence of drug markets.

    The same people who refuse to budge on drug laws are the same bright minds that assure us legal legitimation of same-sex relationships and trans persons is a slippery slope to dendrophillia and NAMBLA. Yet they ignore that their own advocacies didn’t even represent a slope, but a direct erosion of the rule of law.

    Today’s ‘conservatives’ are much closer to apologists for feudalism and the ancien regime than they are to the Enlightenment scholars and the Founders they claim to revere.

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  41. @OzarkHillbilly: Let’s just hit reset on the interchange and note that I am pretty sure we are in basic agreement.

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  42. Gustopher says:

    @Raoul: Counterfeiting is a serious offense.

    But, if you cannot show that he knew the bill was counterfeit, passing off a fake $20 ain’t no crime at all. Just means he was fooled.

    And, since we haven’t seen anything tying him to a counterfeiting ring, when the police would love to show he was part of a dangerous counterfeiting ring, seems like it was nothing, if the $20 was even fake.

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  43. Teve says:

    Unfortunately newspapers can’t seem to find out if the bills are fake or not. Intentionally passing counterfeit bills is a felony with a steep prison sentence, but if you do it unintentionally, it’s not a crime.

    (Disclaimer: I am not a law-talking person)

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  44. Erik says:

    @R. Dave: humans suck at statistics and risk assessment. Lots of people react to scary seeming but really rare threats. I know I do even when I know I’m doing it. You probably do too. It’s common.

    Note: this is an explanation not a justification for police mindset

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  45. @Erik: This was the point I was trying to make, in fact, but did so poorly.

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  46. mattbernius says:

    @Hal_10000:

    There was a case up in Pittsburgh, I think, where a military vet came on a guy who had a gun and was clearly trying to commit “suicide by cop”. The officer didn’t draw his gun but talked to him and got him calmed down. Anther cops rolls up, sees the gun and open fire, killing the man. The Department fired hm. Oh, not the cop who shot the man in a mental health crisis; the cop who didn’t. Because they said by not shooting him instantly, he endangered his fellow officers.

    In case anyone is interested, this is the story that Hal is referring to. I suggest avoiding reading it if you have anything breakable near you…
    https://features.propublica.org/weirton/police-shooting-lethal-force-cop-fired-west-virginia/

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  47. dazedandconfused says:

    @mattbernius:

    The article unfortunately doesn’t mention where the two officers were trained. May well have been they were trained at different academies. Only large cities can afford to do their own academy, so most officers in small towns are trained at one of the general academies, and each develops their own culture.

    As an example, Oakland learned the hard lesson that a police force that is despised by the public is unable to function in a non-police state well at all, and they have their own academy so to this day this kind of crap hardly ever happens in Oakland. I challenge any force to claim they function in a tougher environment.

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  48. ghw says:

    The US police are the worse trained police in the developed world. While most of Europe require (on the order of), 2 years of training, police in the usa get 12 weeks or so. And military veterans comprise about 20% of the police departments. After a minimum of police training and even less in the law (as can be seen in the youtube series Audit the Audit), police are indoctrinated in the belief that they are in a social cast of their own, the are the law, they are above the law, society is a us vs them conflict, with the mentality of a soldier in Afghanistan, afraid of or antagonistic toward any skin color darker than tanned white. The entire system has to change, from training to funding, otherwise nothing will.

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  49. Matt says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You might be shocked to know that gun ownership in other countries is a thing. Despite civilians owning AK style guns and AR-15s those countries don’t have cops running around murdering people. What they do have is vastly different training that emphasizes deescalation and non violent approaches. Here in the USA the cops are taught to escalate and only escalate. To bring violence in overwhelming force so as to pacify the perp(s)…

    Some of my highschool friends/acquaintances are cops now and every single one of them will argue till they are blue in the face that being a cop is the most dangerous thing ever…

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