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Berkeley, CA

Sacramento could help Berkeley remove armed police from traffic enforcement

Posted by 
Robert J Hansen
Robert J Hansen
 1 day ago
Sacramento Police officer executing a traffic stop.Public Domain Image

Sacramento, Cali. -- Robert J Hansen

Berkeley passed a proposal in February for a new model of traffic enforcement which aims to remove armed police from traffic enforcement according to Darrell Owens, former co-executive of East Bay for Everyone.

Owens said if California cities, like Sacramento, adopted a model similar to Berkeley’s, it would help its proposal garner needed support from state legislators.

“The proposal is being lobbied to state legislators to gain their support and to change state traffic enforcement laws which can legally only be done by police,” Owens said. “There would be a separate department from the police department with civilians issuing citations.”

Without lobbying from other cities, it is difficult to get legislators to consider changing state laws Owens said.

Owens said that the death of Daunte Wright in April has rejuvenated the discussion on reimagining traffic enforcement .

“It felt like what we did was just going to be forgotten and until Daunte was killed, it wasn’t really being talked about,” Owens said. “Because of Daunte, now even more people are talking about it.”

Rashid Sidqe, founder of the Law Enforcement Accountability Directive (LEAD), said it’s sad to see what happened to Daunte Wright because he did not have to be pulled over by armed police for expired registration.

“They don’t need to have a gun to make traffic stops,” Sidqe said. “You never hear of a parking attendant getting attacked by anyone.”

Traffic stops should only happen for reasons related to dangerous driving such as sudden lane changes while tailgating, excessive speeding or driving while impaired according to Sidqe.

Traffic stops are the most common interaction between police and civilians and is the source of racial and economic injustice according to research by Jordan Blair Woods, law professor at University Arkansas.

Woods has done extensive research on law enforcement and its use of traffic stops.

According to Woods, Black and Latino motorists, in particular, are disproportionately stopped, questioned, frisked, searched, cited, and arrested during traffic stops.

“Traffic enforcement is thus a common gateway for funneling over-policed and marginalized communities into the criminal justice system,” Woods said.

New York Attorney General Letitia James recommended in September 2020 that police cease conducting traffic stops following her investigation into the shooting death of Allan Feliz in October 2019.

James said the vast majority of traffic stops do not involve criminal conduct yet the involvement of police in such situations can result in violent interactions.

“To the extent the NYPD continues to be involved in traffic enforcement,” James said. “The NYPD should direct its officers not to arrest motorists for open warrants related to minor offenses.”

Flojaune Cofer, chair of the Sacramento Measure U community advisory committee, said news of Daunte Wright’s death was heartbreaking but entirely predictable.

“That’s why it’s been incredibly frustrating that we haven’t been able to move away from a system that we know is rooted in capitalism and white supremacy,” Cofer said.

Cofer said she could be in favor of decriminalizing traffic enforcement and making it more like parking.

The reform package, a year in the making, was unanimously passed Berkeley officials, reprioritizes traffic stops in Berkeley. Low-level offenses such as not wearing a seatbelt or having expired registration will no longer be a priority as police focus their efforts on driving violations related to traffic safety.

“The police already only make stops for and it’s pretty much only when someone is driving dangerously,” Owens said. “I don’t even know what the Alameda County Sheriff’s cars look like.”

Owens, pivotal to Berkeley adopting this new model, said any city who decided to pass a similar proposal, it would help them get the necessary support from the state legislators to change state regulations, necessary to removing armed police from traffic enforcement.

Traffic stops still remain the Berkeley Police Department’s largest source of activity according to research released by a Berkeley auditor.

Advocates are working to get state legislators to change the law to move forward with changing traffic enforcement according to Owens.

If the Sacramento city council chose to pass a proposal similar to Berkeley’s approach to traffic enforcement, it would help garner the needed support from state legislators according to Owens.

“Activists would need to get the city council to pass a proposal that models Berkeley’s to put more pressure on state legislators to change the law,” Owens said.