Trooper's slaying highlights dangers of traffic stops

Nassau County deputy: Any call can change in a matter of seconds

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – According to the Officer Down Memorial website, 84 officers have died in the line of duty in the U.S. this year.

Of those deaths, 25 were related to gunfire, including the shooting death Sunday of Kentucky state Trooper Cameron Ponder, who was killed during a traffic stop.

Investigators said they shot and killed Joseph Johnson-Shanks, the man they said shot Ponder multiple times. Details about what led up to the trooper's shooting haven't been released, but investigators said Johnson-Shanks was hiding out about 2 miles away from where Ponder was killed in the western part of the state.

A lieutenant from Nassau County, who allowed News4Jax reporter Marques White to ride along with her Monday, said the most dangerous calls for officers are often traffic stops.

ONLINE: Officer Down Memorial Page listing fallen officers

Lt. Renee Braddock said that's because the officers never know who is in the car or what the person inside is going to do.

"You never know what that person has done once you've stopped them," Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said. "They could've just robbed a bank or killed someone."

Braddock is a lieutenant of special operations and said the second most dangerous calls are domestic violence incidents. Braddock said it's easy for an officer to know when to call for back-up.

"Any time that you see anything out of the ordinary, anybody that's acting suspicious, not complying with directions or order that we give them," Braddock said. "It's just kind of a second nature thing that we pick up on after being on the job and through the training that we get."

Not many details are being released about the shooting that left Ponder dead in Kentucky. But when those details are released officers will see what they can learn to keep themselves safer in the future.

"It's wise of us to be aware of what's going on nationally and locally, so that we're knowledgeable about what kind of trends that are occurring, any kind of uprisings or certain groups that might have agendas," Braddock said. "We're always doing that."

In Nassau County, deputies mainly ride alone, and it could take minutes for back-up to respond.

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said vigilance is key to keeping officers safe.

"Police officers are being more careful, more watchful when they're sitting in a parking lot alone somewhere, maybe being with another officer and being in a position where someone can't come up from behind them and ambush them," Smith said.

Meanwhile, Braddock said no matter what the call, it's always important to expect the unexpected.

"Any call can change in a matter of seconds," she said.

"The law enforcement profession is a dangerous profession regardless of the situation," Leeper said.

Smith said because of all of the national media coverage, it might seem like there are more shootings involving police officers this year, but the number of incidents where officers have been shot and killed is actually down compared to last year.