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In Wayne County, training on how to survive a traffic stop

There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. But there could be.

At last count, there are about 19 million traffic stops annually in America. Most end with a ticket or a warning, or even an arrest — but no violence, and no deaths. 

But every traffic stop that does end in tragedy, such as the shooting of Patrick Lyoya, a Grand Rapids man who in April fled a traffic stop and was gunned down by Officer Christopher Schurr, attracts international headlines. In so doing, a perception is created that this is a normal outcome, rather than unusual.

Activists push for police reforms, or even to defund the police. The police insist there's no problem, nothing to see here. There is calm for a time. And the pattern repeats itself the next time, with more intensity.

It's a police proverb that "there's no such thing as a routine traffic stop," but it's time to test that conventional wisdom. Behind the wheel of every car is a driver with loved ones. Whether cop or civilian. There is a natural, mutual interest in both people arriving home safe after a traffic encounter. And so they should talk about safety together.

It's been nearly a decade since the Aug. 2014 death of Mike Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, during a fight with a Ferguson police officer. Brown's death sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

In all that time, the one thing that always made sense — getting fathers, and boys, and cops in one room, and seeing the commonality in one another — has not happened. The politics of division are more lucrative. People of the same social class act as strangers, separated by a uniform and a badge. 

So it was encouraging to read, in WDIV-Detroit, that several Wayne County police departments are working to take the fear and mystery out of the traffic stop. WDIV covered a training Thursday in Detroit for young drivers, on how to handle a traffic stop.

The training was led by the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, in collaboration with Livonia, Dearborn and Dearborn Heights police — which departments encounter young drivers from Detroit regularly. It was training for police and civilians both. The trust needs to be rebuilt on both sides. 

"We fear the idea of being stopped by police — that we might get arrested or harmed in some way, shape, or form," Jeremiah Williams, 16, told reporter Megan Woods. 

Fear does not help in a traffic stop. It could lead to behaviors that make the police more interested, and more suspicious.

Traffic stops are where "a lot of things go wrong that should not go wrong," said Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington at the training.

"You shouldn't be afraid of police, and police should be doing it the right way," Washington added.

Williams, the 16-year-old, said he hoped the training would "bridge the gap between police and civilian."

Something needs to. Looking one another in the eye, and knowing no harm will come of it, is a start. 

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.