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'Nothing is routine': The dangerous reality of traffic stops

Traffic stop
Posted at 7:42 AM, May 24, 2023

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The fatal shooting of a Scott County deputy on Monday is sparking a conversation about the dangers of traffic stops.

Ryan Straw, president of the Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) says traffic stops are the most common law enforcement encounters with civilians and for officers, nothing about it is "routine."

"You don't know what's going on in the car. You know what you're stopping them for, but you don't know what that person or persons in the car has or what they're not supposed to have, or what they're feeling or where they're coming from that maybe they're upset or had something going on," said Straw.
"The risk is going to be there because you are the party that is now entering into the fray."

Straw says law enforcement training emphasizes being alert and prepared for anything. But there are some things you can't prepare for.

Monday night, that risk became a reality as Scott County Deputy Caleb Conley was doing his job trying to conduct a traffic stop on I-75. He was shot and killed by the driver.

"Last night, I have no doubt that Deputy Conley did everything he was supposed to do, but you go to those situations sometimes and he had no chance potentially," said Straw.

There isn't a lot of data on the subject, but the FBI reports 118 law enforcement officers were killed in line-of-duty incidents in 2022. They estimate 60 were killed because of violent criminal acts.

Between 2001 and 2010, 95 officers died during traffic stops while more than 4,700 were assaulted.

There's been a lot of conversation and debate over safety and traffic stops over the last few years. The data from the Mapping Police Violence Database shows police in the U.S. have killed nearly 600 people during traffic stops since 2017 — disproportionately harming people of color.

Straw says a part of that same conversation is safety for everyone, including officers.

"I think the community is talking about it," said Straw. "I think this is gonna be an opportunity for everybody to continue to be educated," he said.

Officers pull over millions of drivers every year. Most of the time, officers leave the encounter safely.

Deputy Conley is among the 947 officers in Kentucky who did not. More than 680 of those fallen officers were intentionally shot. 12 officers and two K-9 have been shot and killed since 2014 in Kentucky.

Officers have not yet released why the driver was being stopped.

Straw says he hopes what happened will educate people on the risks involved and the sacrifices police sign up to make.