SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco is the latest Democrat city to target a procedural tool long used by police departments across the country to get guns, drugs and criminals off the streets.
The routine traffic stop, the very reason Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was quickly brought to justice, has been decried as a racist tactic employed by racist cops to kill black people.
The pretextual stop, when an officer pulls over a driver for a minor traffic violation in order to search them for illicit drugs or illegal guns, has helped officers confiscate dangerous contraband and take into custody terrorists and serial killers But the tactic has been criticized by police-reform advocates as a catalyst for disproportionate arrests of black people and it is being removed as a tool in many police departments.
Under a draft policy presented at a recent Police Commission meeting, San Francisco police officers would be prohibited from stopping drivers for tinted windows, expired license plates, broken taillights and other low-level violations, in order to curb supposedly racially biased policing.
The proposal to ban pretextual stops could be seen as an easy way to bring down racially disparate stop and search rates because, according to Police Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone, racial disparities were most pronounced in such stops. He called them “ticky-tack offenses that don’t have any real public safety implication.”
The department admits that striking racial disparities continue in the rates of people stopped and searched, despite the enactment of substantial reform measures over the past several years.
A review of police data by The San Francisco Standard shows a black person in San Francisco was four times as likely to be pulled over as a white person last year.
Commissioner Carter-Oberstone found that, in 2019, black drivers were 10 times as likely to be pulled over for equipment violations.
Does that mean more black drivers have faulty equipment or does it mean police on patrol are more likely to pull over the black driver with the same equipment problems as a white driver?
Without analysis, the answer is unknown but Commissioner Carter-Oberstone’s solution is to take away a patrol officer’s discretion, his sixth-sense honed over many stops and years on the job.
Carter-Oberstone said the stops are unnecessary and create tension between the police and residents. He said:
“These unnecessary interactions lead to use-of-force violations and they unnecessarily strain the relationship between communities and police in a way that isn’t providing any public safety benefit.”
Officers rely almost entirely on their own discretion in enforcing such equipment violations, Carter-Oberstone said, and that could lead to police bias. Carter-Oberstone said:
“Step one is to say, ‘Here are a list of low-level traffic offenses. … These are offenses that pose no threat to public safety.’ We’re just going to say, ‘From here on out, police officers cannot make a stop to enforce these offenses.’ “
It is a broad brush with which to paint the men and women of a diverse police force. It could also be dangerous, as taking the “enforcement” out of law enforcement could be seen as surrendering to lawlessness.
The police union is against the proposal. Tracy McCray, acting president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, called pretextual stops an effective tool for ensuring public safety that helps officers take guns, drugs and dangerous criminals off the streets. She said:
“Telling every criminal that driving your car through San Francisco guarantees you safe passage for transporting ghost guns and other illegal firearms is reckless and dangerous to public safety.”
McCray called for a deeper analysis of stop data to determine whether black drivers are actually stopped at disparate rates when factors other than local demographic data are used in the calculation. McCray said:
“The facts are, our officers target the behavior of drivers, not what they look like. Any proposed policy changes should take that into account.”
In San Francisco, Black people are 4x more likely to be stopped for a traffic violation than white people.
That gap is driving a national, social justice-oriented movement to ban pretextual traffic stops, and SF might be the next city to make the change. https://t.co/TTdCJKmQMB
— The San Francisco Standard (@sfstandard) May 6, 2022
SFPD Chief Scott said in a statement that the department was committed to reviewing existing policies to “propose revisions that address disparities and bias policing.” Scott said:
“Addressing traffic enforcement and limiting (pretextual) stops with a balance of carrying out public safety duties is critical to breaking any potential patterns of bias policing and impacts to communities of color.”
San Francisco’s hard-left district attorney, Chesa Boudin, already prohibits prosecutors from charging cases where contraband is discovered through a pretextual stop.
The draft policy would additionally limit how police may search or question people, and it would ban stops for certain crosswalk or bicycle infractions.
The amended policy would allow officers to leave a ticket on a parked car or mail one to the offender’s home.
Exceptions for pretextual stops would be made if the person in the car matches the description of a violent suspect or is wanted for a crime, Carter-Oberstone said. He added:
“This is not about stopping enforcement. It’s about limiting unnecessary interaction between law enforcement and citizens.”
In a statement, McCray countered that the city’s officers “focus on behavior when making traffic stops to enforce the vehicle code, not anything else.” She added:
“The reality is routine traffic stops can lead to removing illegal guns off of our streets and given the level of gun violence our city is experiencing; these traffic stops literally save lives.
“If the new policy prohibits our officers from enforcing traffic laws, more guns will be in the hands of criminals and there will be more pedestrians and bicycle riders injured.”
Justice-reform advocates in many left-controlled cities have been successful in limiting or banning the pretextual stops. Los Angeles and Philadelphia have severely limited the practice.
Berkeley police have eliminated many low-level stops as part of a broader effort to reduce police interactions with minority communities. In Philadelphia, Democrat Mayor James Kenney signed an order barring officers from making certain low-level traffic stops.
Phelicia Jones, the founder of a local group called Wealth and Disparities in Black Community, has for years urged the Police Commission to address racial inequities in stops, searches and use of force. Jones said:
“It’s a way for black people to die, especially black men to get killed. It’s racial discrimination, it’s racial profiling and it’s harassment.”
The San Francisco commissioners are planning to hold public listening groups and weigh input from the SFPD as well as the Department of Police Accountability and vote on the proposal in the fall.
Philly city council bans police stops for minor traffic violations, claiming it will help ‘racial equity’
October 16, 2021
Editor’s note: In 2020, we saw a nationwide push to “defund the police.” While we all stood here shaking our heads wondering if these people were serious… they cut billions of dollars in funding for police officers. And as a result, crime has skyrocketed – all while the same politicians who said “you don’t need guns, the government will protect you” continued their attacks on both our police officers and our Second Amendment rights.
PHILADELPHIA, PA – According to reports, the Philadelphia City Council overwhelmingly approved a bill earlier in October prohibiting police from stopping cars for minor traffic infractions such as a broken brake light.
The passage of said bill was reportedly inspired by data that showed black drivers were being pulled over at a disproportionate rate when compared to white or Latino drivers.
Philadelphia’s city council voted overwhelmingly to bar police officers from stopping cars over minor traffic violations: https://t.co/1ExL9lCjzR
A study found 72% of Philly drivers stopped over a year were Black.
— Taniel (@Taniel) October 15, 2021
On October 14th, the measure to ban minor traffic stops in Philadelphia was approved following a 14-2 vote by the city council.
Having been partially inspired by data showing black drivers were being pulled over disproportionately for minor stops, the bill gained further traction when that same data showed only a fraction of these stops result in an officer seizing contraband – such as illegal firearms.
A list outlining some of the minor offenses drivers won’t be pulled over for – if the bill is signed by the governor – includes:
- Driving with a single broken brake light
- Having a loud muffler
- Driving without an inspection or emissions sticker
- A registration plate that is not clearly displayed, secured, or visible
- Issues with the vehicle bumper
- Driving with one headlight
- Driving without a vehicle registration within 60 days of the initially observed infraction
Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who introduced the effort back in October of 2020, had the following to say in light of the bill’s passage:
“I’m confident that this bill will be able to address some of the equality issues that we’ve faced in the city of Philadelphia. I think it will put us in a position where hopefully we’ll see significantly less stops as it relates to these types of traffic violations.”
#DrivingEquality reclassifies 8 motor vehicle code violations. We can make our streets safer AND more equitable.
— Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (@CMThomasPHL) September 24, 2021
Now this doesn’t mean drivers on the road get a proverbial free pass for certain minor traffic violations – this is merely modifying how those matters are enforced.
Instead of someone being immediately pulled over for a faulty brake light, or something of that nature, they’ll instead be sent either a warning or citation in the mail.
Francis Healy, special advisor to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, signaled Philadelphia Police’s support for the bill, explaining that this isn’t going to be the end of all traffic stops:
“This is not stopping police officers from making legitimate public safety stops. If I have a reasonable suspicion or probable cause you’re involved in criminal activity, I can make the stop.”
Outside of the equity aspect that inspired the bill, other benefits of it being passed pertain to freeing up officers’ time to pursue more meaningful stops that behoove the general public from a safety standpoint.
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