Some States Move to Curb ‘Pretext’ Traffic Stops

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State legislators, local officials, civil rights advocates and law enforcement officers have grappled for decades with complaints that traffic stops unfairly target minority motorists. The George Floyd killing and demonstrations added pressure for change, and states and localities are exploring new ways to reduce or eliminate pretextual or pretext stops, reports Stateline. In a pretext stop, an officer pulls over a motorist for a minor violation and then uses the stop to investigate a more serious crime. Police say the stops are useful for investigating drugs and weapons possession, human trafficking and drunk driving, among other crimes.

Black motorists, especially young men, have long complained about often they get stopped for petty traffic or equipment violations — failure to signal, broken license plate light, tinted windows and the like. Police stop and search Black motorists more often than drivers of other races with little effect on crime, studies show. On a typical day, police pull over 50,000 drivers — more than 20 million people a year. “Police have enormous discretion in making traffic stops,” said Farhang Heydari of the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law. “If you’re driving, it’s impossible not to break a traffic law — there are so many of them. Police are always going to have a reason to pull you over.” White drivers were 20 percent less likely to be stopped than Black drivers as a share of the population, found a study last year. The Oregon Supreme Court ruled last November police could no longer pull someone over for a broken taillight or failure to signal, then ask unrelated questions, such as asking for consent to search the car for illegal drugs or guns. The Virginia legislature is considering limiting traffic stop violations. Texas Democratic lawmakers plan to introduce a criminal justice package that includes banning pretext traffic stop.

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