Councilors in yet another city are proposing having unarmed civilians make traffic stops (except it’s against the law)


CAMBRIDGE, MA – City councilors Quinton Zondervan and Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler may have just shot to the lead position in next year’s Darwin awards competition. The Darwin award is given posthumously to people who have died in spectacularly stupid ways.

For instance, by sending unarmed civilians out to make traffic stops.

In this case, the two councilors could accept the award on behalf of the victims of their policy proposal, if it is ever enacted.

Thankfully, there is at least one significant obstacle to enacting the policy. According to Cambridge vice-mayor Alanna Mallon, the policy would conflict with Massachusetts state law, which states that only police officers can conduct traffic stops.

Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. said that he’d abide by the council’s decision but believes the proposed ordnance “lacks forethought.”

A study by Jordan Blair Woods in the Michigan Law Review appears to support counselors Zondervan and Sobrinho-Wheeler. According to Woods, the number of police officers killed or assaulted is small relative to the number of traffic stops.

To arrive at his conclusion, Woods studied traffic stops in Florida over a ten year period. Over that span, he found over 4,450 cases of violence against officers during traffic stops.

That is more than one incident a day, on average, for ten years. 

Woods looks at it differently. He estimates risk to officers based on the proportion of violent traffic stops to non-violent traffic stops. For instance, he writes that the chance of an officer being killed by a motorist during a traffic stop is a minuscule once for every 6.5 million stops.

This is based on 48 officers killed during traffic stops, or 4.8 per year.

From Woods’ point of view, the loss of 4.8 officers a year isn’t a significant risk because it is rare relative to the number of traffic stops.

Law enforcement officers in Florida might be forgiven for thinking that the deaths of about five officers every year during traffic stops represents a serious risk. This  doesn’t take into account the other 4,402 assaults on officers during “routine” traffic stops.

The numbers go even higher for felony stops.

A researcher is free to look at numbers to determine the rarity of an event, but it is law enforcement that pays the price when statistics are misused to support dangerous policy changes.

City councilors Zondervan and Sobrinho-Wheeler are looking at a “problem” presented to them by their local community. According to their sources, police in their city (and, presumably, the nation) suffer from institutional racism.

That is, the police department itself promotes unjustified traffic stops. Those stops create dangerous situations wherein motorists are more likely to be harmed because officers are trained to treat all traffic stops as potentially hostile.

The reason they are trained this way is because of the large numbers of law enforcement officers who have died or been seriously injured during routine traffic stops.

Zondervan and Sobrinho-Wheeler think that having unarmed civilians conduct traffic stops would reduce danger to motorists.

They are likely correct about that: An unarmed civilian won’t pose a serious threat to a person in the driver’s seat of a working vehicle.

It will, however, increase the danger to that civilian, who will not have the means to defend himself. It is possible that criminal motorists won’t feel threatened by civilian traffic stops. If not, they may decide to refrain from using violence. That is the hope of the two city councilors.

How, though, do they expect a motorist to behave if their vehicle contains drugs, unlicensed firearms, evidence of a crime, or other contraband? A civilian is just as capable of discovering these things as a police officer and would represent a similar threat to the motorist. In that scenario, and it is not uncommon, violence may ensue to prevent discovery.

There is one way to find out: enact the legislation and see if the statistics for civilian traffic-minder deaths are just as rare as they are for law enforcement officers.

If Massachusetts lost five civilians per year, would that price be too high?

And what about the additional 402 assaults per year? Would unarmed civilians put up with that?

The goal is to prevent violence against motorists without increasing violence to law enforcement. The reality is more likely one-sided: violence against dangerous motorists is reduced to zero while violence against civilian officials stays the same or goes up.

To know the answer for sure is a bit like a game of Russian Roulette. The question is, will the Cambridge city council pull the trigger?

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Cambridge isn’t alone in their asinine ideas. Berkeley, CA is also giving traffic stop duties to civilians. Here’s that story from Law Enforcement Today again.

In yet another ridiculous move in response to “defund the police” movement, the Berkeley City Council has moved to slash the police budget by 50%. They’ve also reportedly pulled traffic enforcement officers off the streets.

Traditionally known for its far-left radical culture, Berkeley has been the hotspot for civil disobedience and questionable policies since the hippy movement of the 1960’s. This move seems to solidify its spot among the top spots for head-scratching actions.

In an 8-0 vote (with one abstention), the council passed a motion that cuts personnel and other budget categories in half, essentially firing half of the police force and slashing the remaining force’s training funds.

Berkeley is just the latest in a string of cities joining the defunding movement in the wake of the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis. Seattle is looking at defunding measures, as are other major and minor cities caught up in the hysteria.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the meeting started off on a contentious note, including a vote of no confidence against Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood.

The newspaper reported:

“At a June council meeting, when asked about how the Police Department responds to Black Lives Matter protesters, Greenwood said, ‘Firearms. We can shoot people. If you are being attacked with lethal force, if we don’t have less-lethal that can drive it back, then we’re absent a tool. That’s my concern. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic and I apologize.’

“Greenwood’s comments did not sit well with council members, including Cheryl Davila, who said the chief’s comments were ‘not merely a gaffe, but inexcusable.’ However, Davila’s motion did not get council support, as no other members voted for it to come up for a body-wide vote.”

In a town controlled by its university, UC Berkeley Law Professor Franklin Zimring weighed in, calling the proposed budget cuts a “wish list” that would incur significant costs, the Chronicle reported.

Zimring is known for his left-leaning tendencies, including a book he published blaming guns for the rise in mass shooting rather than holding the shooters accountable. So it is a bit surprising that Zimring urges temperance when it comes to slashing the police budget so dramatically.

According to Breitbart, Zimring said:

“What would be unprecedented is not the nature of the wish list, or even its magnitude, but whether it happens at any scale close to the numbers flying around in policy conversations in a lot of cities right now.”

Zimring went on to explain:

“It’s an iron law of public employee negotiations that those kinds of transitions cost money. Fifty percent is the end of a very, very, very long rainbow.”

In addition to the sweeping and drastic budget cuts, all traffic stops by police will no longer be allowed either.

According to the Chronicle, a special section of the Department of Transportation will be set up to maintain traffic order. Details of this new department structure have not yet been released, but it is unlikely employees of this new division will have any legal authority beyond enforcement of traffic laws.

While this new structure may seem innocuous, even helpful, at first, the policy actually removes an important tool for law enforcement, as many traffic stops result in arrests for other crimes the drivers have committed previously.

Historically, traffic stops have been a large source for discovering wanted felons who are on the loose and placing them behind bars. By removing traffic stops, the Berkeley City Council is placing the city and surrounding area in great danger by not only allowing the violation of laws originally put in place to protect drivers and passengers but also by taking away a valuable method for law enforcement to remove criminals from the street.



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