Three racial justice leaders have joined forces to call on members of local, state and federal government to address a common issue: minor traffic stops that can escalate and result in civilians being injured or even killed.
Two months after Tyre Nichols died after being arrested by Memphis police officers at a traffic stop, city council members passed new police reform ordinances that will change how city police conduct traffic stops and ban unmarked vehicles from being involved in pulling people over.
Nicholas Turner, the director and president of the Vera Institute of Justice, told HuffPost that police departments nationwide can change how they handle traffic stops “that have no bearing on public safety.”
Turner, along with Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, and Patrick Gaspard, the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, published an opinion piece in CNN this week detailing why this change is needed.
Police make about 20 million traffic stops each year, largely for issues such as a broken taillight, and Black drivers are disproportionately pulled over, they wrote. In addition to saying individual police departments should make changes, the authors called on the U.S. Department of Transportation, which provides funding for highway safety programs, to address the issue.
“Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg should instruct his department to disburse safety grants to localities that limit low-level traffic stops and rely on traffic enforcement methods other than police, including civilian traffic professionals who can address road safety issues without the intimidation — and possible danger — of a badge and a gun,” they wrote.
“We have seen the article and the Department takes this issue very seriously,” a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation told HuffPost. “We will continue to work to ensure our traffic safety programs, including grant-making, uphold both safety and equity.”
Traffic stops are inefficient in addressing crime and have ultimately caused an uptick into investigative stops and harassment of civilians, Turner said.
This was evident in the case of Derrick Kittling, an unarmed Black man in Alexandria, Louisiana, who was pulled over for having tinted windows in November. An officer deployed his Taser on Kittling and, after a brief struggle, fatally shot him in the head.
Turner said officers are not often finding any evidence of the violent crimes they are claiming to prevent.
A 2018 study in Nashville on non-moving violation traffic stops found that less than one-tenth of 1% (0.8 out of every 1,000) resulted in police charging someone with possession of a weapon. Another analysis from the Vera Institute of Justice found similar results with low-level stops in Suffolk County, Massachusetts.
Additionally, Washington, D.C., police recovered a gun in 1% of traffic and pedestrian stops combined in 2020. In the year prior, there was a 0.6% recovery rate in all of such stops.
“We know with that level of stops, they are profoundly inefficient,” Turner said. “They are damaging to any effort to produce public safety. It is a poor deployment of resources.”