As the Monday morning traffic stop death of Leonard Cure, 53, in Camden County remains under investigation, News4JAX is looking at what happens during a traffic stop, what officers and deputies know when they pull behind someone, and what can be done to minimize danger on both sides.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation identified Cure. His family members said he is a Black man who spent more than 16 years imprisoned in Florida on a wrongful conviction was fatally shot Monday by a sheriff’s deputy in Georgia during a traffic stop.
Traffic stops are high anxiety and high risk for drivers and law enforcement.
According to the Law Enforcement Epidemiology Project with the University of Illinois Chicago, 50 million people in the U.S. have contact with police annually. About 1 million of those people are estimated to be involved in some use of force during these interactions.
Black males comprise 6.1% of the total U.S. population, but 24.9% of all persons killed by law enforcement, according to data analyzed in the project.
News4JAX asked Tom Hackney, a retired director with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, to go over what happens in a traffic stop.
“There’s always apprehension when you stop a vehicle,” he said. “So the first thing that happens is that license plate in the car that you’re stopping is called in, and you’re getting some information feedback immediately on whether that car is stolen or wanted.”
Responders call in the vehicle’s license plate and quickly have access to a nationwide Driver and Vehicle Information Database called DAVID. It provides names, addresses, criminal histories, and more.
“You’re going to start getting information back on the registered owner of that car, if that registered owner of the car is wanted for anything, if there’s any warrants on them, that’s going to come back as well,” he said.
Does that change how an officer or deputy handles a traffic stop?
“It absolutely does,” he said.
What if, hypothetically, an officer or deputy learns the driver has been previously arrested for armed robbery. Would that change how law enforcement handles the call?
“Absolutely, it heightens your awareness, especially when there’s any kind of crime that that’s a history of violence, or especially a firearm that’s involved, because you want to make sure that you know that this is another incident where somebody could be armed,” he pointed out.
Hackney says an officer or deputy will slowly approach a vehicle, taking note of everything going on inside and out.
“So as you’re coming up to the car, and you’re making visual observations, the officer is going to get to touch the car,” he said.
Hackney said while police need to stick to their training and standards, it’s important drivers do their part:
Pull over in a safe placeAvoid sudden movementsComply with commands
And even if you disagree with the officer, don’t argue about a traffic stop on the roadside — instead present your side in court or even file a complaint with the agency.
It’s very unlikely arguing with an officer at the scene will help your case.
While the deadly traffic stop in Camden County is still under investigation and details aren’t clear, Hackney said even an unarmed subject could be shot justifiably if the officer’s or deputy’s life is in danger.
“In this case, from what we know, where a taser was used, a baton was used, if you’ve gone through those steps and you feel like your life is still in jeopardy, there may be a point that deadly force is justifiable.,” he said.
That’s why he is adamant drivers and passengers, even if completely innocent, should never get physical.