Coaches and tactical guides typically point out that vehicle stops cause more police officer killings than almost any other type of interaction.
Of the approximately 280 police officers killed on duty since the end of 2016, about 60 have died – mostly from shootings – due to stopped drivers, a Times analysis showed. (About 170 other police officers died in accidents at work.) But claims of increased danger ignore the context: stopping vehicles is much greater than all other types of police treatment of civilians.
In fact, because police stop so many cars and trucks – tens of millions each year – the probability of a police officer dying at any station of a vehicle is less than 1 in 3.6 million, with no accidents, two studies have shown. At bus stops for common traffic offenses, according to 2019 data, the probability is only 1 in 6.5 million studies by Jordan Blair Woods, a law professor at the University of Arkansas.
“The risk is statistically negligible, but it is nonetheless existentially increased,” Mr. Gill, Salt Lake County Attorney and outspoken advocate for increased police accountability.
State laws generally prohibit police officers from using lethal force unless they reasonably deem it necessary to prevent imminent death or serious injury. Under pressure from street protests over the 2014 murder Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., and the recent Black Lives Matter marches, a number of police administrations have declared de-escalation. They often advise police officers to alleviate conflict with drivers, for example, by listening carefully instead of just barking orders.
“The last thing I have to do is to highlight my authority, for example‘ You will do what I tell you because I said so, ’” said Jon Blum, a former police officer who now writes training material for police agencies and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “The cop has to sell that person.”
Departments are increasingly ordering police officers to allow suspected offenders to be taken away and later found to avoid the risk of a possible confrontation or rapid pursuit. “You have a type of car license plate and you know where he lives,” said Scott Bieber, chief of police at Walla Walla, Washington. “Go to his house in 45 minutes and add an avoidance charge.”