Leaders in some states and cities have accepted the concept of prohibiting police officers from pulling over drivers for minor traffic offences. Some experts are concerned that this could jeopardize public safety. For example, politicians in Washington state are pursuing a bill that would prohibit police from conducting traffic stops for minor infractions.
Meanwhile, Oregon has already established a similar ordinance, and San Francisco is considering doing the same after Los Angeles and Minneapolis.
According to Heritage Foundation legal fellow Zack Smith, these measures are part of an ongoing “war on police officers across the country,” and they’re basically “handcuffing them, not allowing them to do their jobs.” Smith argues that, when officers are not allowed to enforce laws, it leads to an increase in under-policing.
More than 20 Democratic members of the Washington State House are sponsoring legislation that would prohibit police officers from stopping drivers for parking and non-moving equipment violations, misdemeanor warrants, and equipment failure that would not immediately and seriously endanger roadway safety. According to the bill, prioritizing safety stops minimizes traffic crashes and injuries, as well as racial inequities in traffic stops.
Oregon passed legislation in March 2022 that prohibited police officers from conducting car stops due to a broken headlight, taillight, brake light, or registration plate light. The statute also acknowledges the existence of systemic racism within the criminal justice system and advocates for the expansion of culturally sensitive services to alleviate inequities.
In early January, the San Francisco Police Commission voted to prohibit officers from conducting traffic stops for driving without a front license plate, failing to display registration tags, driving with one non-functioning brake light, and failing to signal continuously for 100 feet before a turn, among other minor offenses. The proposed reform must still go through labor negotiations with police unions.
Los Angeles, California’s largest city, has previously introduced a traffic-stopping mechanism. The Los Angeles Police Commission banned officers from performing pre-textual stops without “articulable information… suggesting a severe crime” in March 2022.
Despite these attempts, some experts fear that such ideas may violate state law. Smith, for example, contends that a city’s policy decision to nullify a lawfully adopted statute is “very troubling.”