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.
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.
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.