No More Traffic Stops: Police Reform that Could Change Everything

Let’s start with a universal truth: Every single one of us, young, old, rich, poor, white, non-white, city, suburb, bedroom or rural – every single one of us has had an experience with an asshole cop. Most of use have had several. And, that experience almost always began with a bullshit traffic stop.

We know what a bullshit traffic stop is: Tinted windows, no front plate, “illegal” lane change, failure to signal, speeding with no one around, not coming to a “full” stop (aka: the California Roll), jaywalking. Fix-it tickets: Expired registration, broken headlight. These are known as revenue-raisers. You’re more likely to get one toward the end of the month, or the end of a shift, when cops need to fulfill their quota…oh, I mean their “suggested minimum” for traffic tickets.

We know how this works: He pulls you over. (He’s always alone, and so are you). He won’t tell you why you were pulled over. He demands your license, registration, and then walks around the car looking for stuff that could or might be fine-worthy. If nothing is fine-worthy, he asks if you’ve been drinking or using drugs. When you are offended and alarmed, he pokes you again saying you seem “agitated” are you sure you’re not under the influence? (He still hasn’t told you why you were pulled over.) Here it comes now: Step out of the vehicle….do you mind if I search the car? This will make it easier for you…

Any of this sounding familiar?

The multitude of videos showing police harassing, threatening, and ultimately shooting black men and women too often begins with one thing: They were pulled over by a lone, white male cop for some bullshit traffic stop.

If we truly want to stop police violence, we need to do the following:

Remove Revenue Raising and “Suggested Minimums”

States and other municipalities use traffic fines as revenue for their general fund. Why? Unlike raising taxes, it doesn’t require a public vote or legislative debate. Legislatures can silently increase fines, and increase the suggested minimum number of tickets written. This way of funding our government must end.

Making matters worse, for many smaller, cash-strapped communities, these fines are used to fund the budgets of the police departments who are writing these tickets!! This is why we have money for radar guns, but no funds to process rape kits. Moreover, the whole idea of using civil penalties as a primary revenue source for municipality is problematic. It’s clear that what was intended to be a financial disincentive has now become a mechanism for extortion and abuse.

Governments could easily end traffic tickets as a form of revenue raising.

The mission of cops is to protect and serve. They are also supposed to investigate crime. Setting up speed traps and writing traffic tickets fulfills neither of these goals. Moreover, most cops aren’t all too keen on writing tickets anyway – that’s not why they became a cop. What they do like is that bullshit traffic stops give them a multitude of subjective, yet “legitimate” reasons to detain anyone they want.

Speed Limits and Stop Signs Should be Suggested

This is a long held Libertarian battle cry whose time has finally come. I realize that many find this akin to anarchy. However, I would remind you that most people love their cars (and the people in them), and understand that speed limits and stop signs, and other traffic directions are there for the common good and our safety. I think we also know that people abide – or don’t abide– whether there’s a cop present or not.

While it’s easy to get lost in the legislative details of this one, let’s just say this: We, as a citizenry, don’t care too much about speeding and traffic violations. If we did, we wouldn’t be depending on individuals in cars to randomly enforce those violations. With the prevalence of drones, cameras, GPS, tracking devices, and live-stream video, there’s absolutely zero reason for any human being to have to pull-over another human being to issue a hand-written ticket — a ticket that is based on one individual’s “eye-witness” judgement. Again, a structure designed for extortion and abuse.

Stop Asking People to “Step Out of the Car”

Another commonality of many of these cop killings is the cop insists the driver and passengers “Step out of the car.”

Every cop in America knows that an individual has the right to remain in the vehicle unless you are being arrested. (Which is why he’s insisting that you appear under the influence of drugs. See: Intro paragraph above for shake down details).

Once you step out of your car, you are in the most danger you could possibly be.

Time and time again, we see black men and women politely refusing to leave the vehicle – that is their right! The refusal infuriates the cop/bully, an argument ensues, and the cop shoots you because he “felt” you were being “threatening” to him.

Once you step out of your car, you are in the most danger you could possibly be. You are being threatened and bullied by an angry man with weapons. You are almost always alone. You’re often being kicked, shoved, and yelled at, black men are almost immediately hand cuffed – and for what? An “illegal” lane change? Everything about human nature kicks in now – fight or flight – in both cases, you’re going to get shot.

It’s easier to shoot you when you’re outside the car. Regardless, in the case of Philando Castile he was shot inside his vehicle in front of his girlfriend and child.

Any cop who tells you to get out of your car during a traffic stop should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Stop asking to “Search the Vehicle”

This is another no-brainer. Under no circumstances should a traffic stop and vehicle search be part of the same interaction. You need a warrant and that warrant requires a judge to approve that you have probable cause. A traffic stop is not probable cause. Cops need to stop threatening people to “give their permission.”

Always do what the cop says, after all, you’ve got nothing to hide, right? If you have a problem with his actions, you can “hash it out” in court was the sage advice offered by a former NYC cop. This is white people fairly tale bullshit …

Cops plant drugs, cops plant weapons. Cops should not be sniffing around your car without a warrant. It’s proven bad for your health.

Any cop who is insisting that you permit him to search your vehicle and/or threatens to arrest you or tow your vehicle because you refused to let him search your car during a traffic stop should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Who are you? Why did you stop me?

This is another no-brainer change in protocol. The first thing a cop should do is hand the driver a card with his ID and contact info, and then tell the driver exactly why he has detained him. I should not have to provide my “papers.” This isn’t Nazi Germany. I have the right of free movement. If you’ve stopped me, you must tell me why, and you must tell me immediately.

Any cop who is insisting that you provide him identification before he tells you why you are being detained, or any cop who refuses to provide you the reason why you a being being detained (after you’ve asked, repeatedly) should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Protect and Serve or Hassle and Fine?

Dallas Police Chief, David Brown, has it right: We’re asking police to do too much. They are forced to deal with homelessness, mental illness, drug problems, fucked-up relationships. These are serious social issues that demand our attention, but they are not criminal behavior. Broken tail lights, expired registration, tinted windows? These are civil statues, not criminal behavior. Why are the police involved at all?

We need to separate the enforcement of civil penalties from the prevention and investigation of criminal behavior

Now is the time. We MUST tightly define and limit the scope of the police. We can do this by removing the revenue incentive that is insidiously intertwined with traffic “law” enforcement. A rolling stop is not a criminal act. And we also must fire those “Bad Apples” who don’t play by the rules. Laws are for everyone, including the cops.

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