Los Angeles Council tackles “driving while Black”

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The Los Angeles Police Department could be removed from enforcing traffic rules under a new proposal that addresses one of the most problematic and racially charged elements of police interaction with people of color — traffic stops.

Los Angeles Councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Mike Bonin, Curren Price, and Herb Wesson proposed that the city consider replacing police officers with Department of Transportation staffers or automated technology for enforcement of traffic laws, such as speeding, illegal turns, and other vehicle code violations. Such a move would virtually eliminate the LAPD’s role in traffic stops, one of the leading forms of interaction between police and the public.

“For years, police officers have used traffic enforcement as an excuse to harass and demean Black motorists while violating their rights,” said Harris-Dawson. “We do not need armed officials responding to and enforcing traffic violations. This practice is expensive, costing the city millions and far too many innocent people their lives.”

“African-American motorists being ordered to pull over for “driving while black” needs to be a thing of the past — and Los Angeles can lead the way,” said Bonin. “Nationally and locally, data demonstrates Blacks are stopped at vastly disproportionate rates. Tackling this problem is a fundamental part of reimagining public safety.”

“Over the years, data has shown that Black and Latino motorists are more likely to have an escalated interaction with a police officer than white people during routine traffic stops. This proposal demonstrates our dedication to restructuring the role of armed law enforcement in Los Angeles,” said Price. “People of color should not have to worry about whether they’re going to be handcuffed in front of their child, slammed to the ground or make it back home to their loved ones when they get pulled over by the police. Now is the time to consider common sense police reforms that will give our communities of color peace of mind, security and a sense of relief.”

“Driving while Black or Latino should not be a crime, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a young person of color who has not had a negative interaction that began with an alleged traffic infraction,” said Wesson. “It’s common sense – we don’t need an armed response to a broken tail light or a traffic accident. This is a logical next step to reimagining public safety in Los Angeles.”

The proposal, part of broader efforts to reimagine public safety in Los Angeles, seeks to end the practice of African-American motorists being pulled over for “driving while Black.” Police departments nationwide have long used minor traffic infractions as a pretext for profiling people of color. From jaywalking citations in Downtown and Skid Row to operations by the Metropolitan Division explicitly targeting Black and Latino motorists in South LA, the LAPD’s history of misusing traffic enforcement has fostered decades of distrust in communities of color. Data has shown that Los Angeles police officers stop and search Black and Latino motorists far more often than whites. Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be removed from the vehicle and twice as likely to either be handcuffed or detained at the curb. Fear of racial profiling is often cited as a barrier to active transportation in Black and Latino communities.

The legislation would direct LADOT and other city staff to consult with community stakeholders and suggest alternative methods of enforcement that do not rely on armed officers. The report will look at national and international best practices, and consider transferring enforcement authority from LAPD to LADOT and using automated equipment.

The proposal is the latest in a series of local efforts to reimagine public safety. Councilmembers Wesson, Harris-Dawson, Price, Nury Martinez, and Bob Blumenfield have submitted legislation asking a new emergency-response model that uses trained specialists, rather than LAPD officers, to respond to many types of calls, including those regarding homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse issues. Councilmembers Bonin, Harris-Dawson and David Ryu have also proposed the creation of a City of Los Angeles Office of Violence Prevention. Last week, LA Metro—the nation’s third-largest transit agency—voted to move forward with an effort to replace armed law enforcement officers with smarter and more effective methods of providing public safety.

Submitted by David Graham-Caso, Deputy Chief of Staff for Councilmember Mike Bonin

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