Rethinking Police Traffic Stops

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traffic stop

Photo by Chris Yarzab via Flickr

Traffic stops for expired tags and broken tail lights will no longer be prosecuted in Ramsey County, Minnesota as part of an initiative to reduce police violence following Philando Castile’s police killing during a traffic stop in 2016, CNN reports.

These “non-public safety stops” have a history of leading to fatal interactions with police, according to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.

The policy announcement comes five years after former St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot Castile seven times during a traffic stop after Yanez pulled Castile over on July 6, 2016, because of a broken tail light.

Choi, the prosecutor who brought charges against Yanez, who was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter and other charges in 2017, compared police stopping motorists for minor traffic infractions to stop-and-or-frisk.

“I’m not going to continue to perpetuate these unjust practices, these police practices, that have really harsh results to our community,” he told CNN. “We really need to start thinking about the actual negative impact this has with police and community relationships and the outright racial disparity is telling by looking at the numbers.”

In related development, the Spokane, WA  Police Department announced it would temporarily eliminate its traffic unit for a different reason — staffing shortages.

According to the Spokesman-Review, patrol officers will continue stopping and citing people for traffic infractions, but will allow the department to better prioritize its response to calls in progress and investigations. Currently, the department has the budget to employ 356 officers but only has 346, leaving 10 vacancies.

To fill the department’s vacancies, Meidl said it would need upwards of 100 applicants, but only 48 people have applied. Meidl said he blames the hiring difficulties on “anti-police rhetoric” following former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd.

In Spokane, several officers have faced criminal charges, including Sgt. Gordon Ennis, who was convicted in 2018 of sexually assaulting a fellow officer, and officer Nathan Nash, who is awaiting trial on multiple counts of rape for allegedly assaulting domestic violence victims he met on calls.

Eva Herscowitz is a TCR contributor.

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