Seattle inspector general sends police chief a letter “urging” SPD to eliminate traffic stops for minor violations

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SEATTLE, WA- In a recent letter to Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, the city’s inspector general stated that Seattle police should “strongly consider” eliminating traffic stops for minor, civil, and non-dangerous violations.

According to reports, Seattle Inspector General Lisa Judge stated that such stops should be “discontinued for the safety of both officers and the public and for racial fairness.”

As inspector general, Judge is charged by law with helping to ensure the fairness and integrity of the police system in its delivery of law enforcement services. In her letter, Judge wrote that traffic stops should be limited to offenses that create a danger to the public.

Examples of this include reckless driving, DUI, school zone violations, and other similar circumstances.

Judge framed her “recommendation” as a “request,” but then went on to argue that routine traffic stops for minor civil offenses, such as an expired license tabs or a burned-out taillight can at times result in unnecessary deaths, both to motorists and police officers.

In her letter, Judge cited the recent cases of 20-year-old Daunte Wright who was fatally shot by police during a traffic stop and Darian Jarrot, a New Mexico state police officer who was fatally shot during a traffic stop by a driver with an assault rifle. She wrote:

“Many in law enforcement acknowledge traffic stops are inherently dangerous, with officers approaching unknown persons, often in darkened vehicles, sometimes in remote areas, without knowing whether that person may try to harm them to avoid being arrested.”

She added:

“Many in the community believe traffic stops are inherently dangerous for different reasons, especially for people of color.”

Judge wrote that traffic stops for minor violations are a “significant infringement on civil liberty” and should be reserved for cases when a person is engaged in criminal conduct that harms others. She wrote:

“Stops for government-created requirements like car tabs, with nothing but a potential monetary penalty, do not justify the risk to community or to officers.”

She stated in her letter that routine traffic stops are the most common form of face-to-face interactions between police and the community and can impact how community members form negative opinions of the police, which can in turn influence public trust in the department. She wrote:

“Moreover, research has consistently shown that black and Latino experiences during traffic stops are different from those of white persons.”

She added:

“I have discussed these issues with others in city leadership and I believe there is support for exploring alternatives to traffic enforcement in ways that do not involve routine stops for minor violations.”

In her letter to Diaz, she stated that she welcomes the opportunity to “discuss this critical community matter” with him further. 

PubliCola reported that the Seattle Police Department is not required to act on Judge’s letter, nor is the letter a fully formed policy proposal. Judge’s office will need to conduct additional research into best practices if they plan to phase out low-level traffic stops. 

Judge told PubliCola that she believes the issues raised in her letter require an urgent response. She said in a statement:

“Rather than taking to time for a painstaking audit, we have a practice of sending an ‘alert letter’ to SPD to get the ball rolling quickly.”

Reportedly, this is not the first issue Judge has flagged for the Seattle Police Department. In February, her office sent letters to Diaz urging him to clarify his department’s vehicle pursuit guidelines and to reconsider how his officers respond to people experiencing mental health crises while carrying knives.

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Report: Officer who was shot, nearly murdered during traffic stop tried tasing suspect first

April 23rd, 2021

The following contains editorial content written by a current staff writer for Law Enforcement Today. 

DOTHAN, AL – We at Law Enforcement Today recently reported on a seemingly standard traffic stop enacted in Dothan, Alabama, where a police officer was non-fatally shot after pulling a driver over for a missing license plate.

This just so happens to be a case where police tried using a Taser when pinned against a firearm – but the Taser wasn’t effective, and officers had to upgrade to using a firearm against the suspect (after an officer got shot).

Here’s the rundown on the April 19th incident in Dothan, Alabama.

In that report, a Dothan Police officer pulled someone over on April 19th at around 12:30 p.m. for allegedly not having a visible license plate.

When the officer approached the suspect’s vehicle, they had noticed a firearm in the suspect’s car. After said discovery, the suspect reportedly fled the stop until arriving at an intersection a short distance away from the original stop.

By the time the officer and his backup caught up to the suspect at the intersection, the suspect had allegedly pulled out the firearm.

Interestingly, even after officers realized they were facing a lethal threat in that scenario, police reportedly tried using a taser on the suspect before getting shot, according to Dothan Police Chief Will Benny:

“Officers attempted to use a Taser to incapacitate the suspect. The suspect began firing at an officer and struck him in the left leg. The officer and his backup fired at the suspect, ending the confrontation.”

Now pay close attention to that statement, the series of events as relayed by officials note that officers tried using a Taser and then the statement points out that the suspect begins shooting a gun right after the Taser deployment.

Obviously, the Taser failed to accomplish what it’s designed to do – which can happen often with the device when used in the field.  

Anyone that has spent any amount of time reviewing the comment sections of news reports regarding officer-involved shootings will likely have seen comments to the effect of “why didn’t police just use a Taser,” – or some variation of that.

Well, that’s because Tasers are effective in certain situations.

But in the real world, police officers don’t have the ability to craft a controlled environment where a Taser yields the favorable result it was designed to deliver.

Even a report from NPR that was published back in June of 2019 showcased that, according to data gathered from some of the largest police departments in the country, Tasers carry an efficacy rate that would not be appealing to anybody facing a life or death scenario.

The data gathered regarding Tasers from police departments across the country showed that in Dallas there was a 68% effectiveness rate, in Fort Worth there was a 62.4% effectiveness rate, in Los Angeles there was a 57.1% effectiveness rate – out of the 12 police departments surveyed in this study, the average affectedness of a Taser wound up being 68.4%.

The reason why Tasers have such a low effectiveness rate is because there are multiple points of failure associated with using a Taser. Not to mention, there’s only so much range that can be afforded to a fairly standard police-issued Taser.

Tasers are great in certain scenarios, under very limited circumstances when faced with aggressive subjects.

But Tasers are not this magical, super effective, applicable-in-all-instances tool that should be relied upon on every occasion when facing grievous bodily harm or death.

As for the other sorts of comments coming from the habitually critical of life-or-death situations where police use lethal force – such as the “shoot them in the leg” crowd – just ignore or lampoon those people.  

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As mentioned above, we at Law Enforcement Today previous reported on the incident from Alabama where an officer was non-fatally shot. 

Here’s that previous report. 

_

DOTHAN, AL – Officials say a suspect is deceased and a Dothan Police officer is hospitalized after reportedly being shot during what was described as a “routine” traffic stop on April 19th.

The incident was said to have occurred at approximately 12:30 p.m. on April 19th in the area of Third Avenue and Trim Street.  

Dothan Police Chief Will Benny stated that one of his officers, who has not been identified by name as of this writing, had pulled over a motorist for allegedly not having a visible license plate.

When the officer approached the vehicle in question, the officer was said to have noticed a weapon inside of the vehicle. The driver reportedly fled in the vehicle thereafter.

The unidentified officer pursued the suspect vehicle for a short distance until the suspect vehicle had stopped at a nearby intersection. At that time, the driver reportedly exited the vehicle while in possession of a firearm.

Chief Benny stated that the officer attempted to use their Taser on the suspect, before coming under fire and getting shot:

“Officers attempted to use a Taser to incapacitate the suspect. The suspect began firing at an officer and struck him in the left leg. The officer and his backup fired at the suspect, ending the confrontation.”

The unnamed officer was said to have been doing relatively well after undergoing surgery. The deceased male suspect’s identity has not been revealed by officials as of this writing.

Please follow Law Enforcement Today as we continue to gather further updates to this developing investigation.

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