Liberal Cities Across the Country Forbidding Police From Making Certain Traffic Stops

Leaders in multiple states and cities are embracing efforts to bar police from pulling drivers over for certain less-severe traffic violations, a move that some experts believe endangers public safety.

Lawmakers in Washington state are pushing a plan that would forbid police traffic stops conducted to address some lower-level traffic lawbreaking, and Oregon has already established a similar policy, while San Francisco is considering a city-wide plan of this kind after Los Angeles and Minneapolis instituted their own. Such restrictions could effectively impede enforcement against more serious offenses and put innocent civilians at risk, according to experts who spoke to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Heritage Foundation legal fellow Zack Smith said measures of this kind are “par for the course” in an ongoing “war on police officers across the county, basically handcuffing them, not allowing them to do their jobs.”

“I think many that support these bills would say that these types of supposedly minor violations are disproportionately used as pretext to stop black or other minority members of their communities,” Smith told the DCNF. “But what officers find is that when they’re not allowed to enforce laws that are on the books, it essentially leads to an increase in under-policing in many of these communities.”

More than 20 Democratic Washington State House members are sponsoring a bill that would prohibit police officers from stopping drivers primarily for reasons including parking and nonmoving equipment violations, some misdemeanor warrants or equipment failure that would not immediately and seriously endanger roadway safety. “Research shows that prioritizing safety stops reduces traffic crash and injury outcomes and reduces racial disparities in traffic stops,” H.B. 1513’s preliminary text says.

Washington State passed a law in May 2021 requiring police to have probable cause that a person committed a violent or sexual offense, escaped from custody or violated electronic monitoring rules or have reasonable suspicion that they drove illegally while intoxicated in order to engage them in a vehicular pursuit. A subsequent state law enacted in March 2022 clarified that officers could use physical force when necessary to halt someone fleeing a temporary “Terry stop.”

“Studies have shown that low-risk traffic stops are ‘not an effective strategy at reducing crime,’” H.B. 1513 co-sponsor and state Rep. Chipalo Street said to the DCNF. “Data from Washington shows that contraband is found in no more than 0.3% of traffic stops. Officers have a finite amount of time and trying to fight crime through traffic stops is an incredibly inefficient use of these resources.”

The bill has undergone law enforcement-backed changes since its original introduction last year and some law enforcement community members support it, though “no law enforcement agency” has publicly done so, Street told the DCNF Wednesday. Republican Washington state Rep. Carolyn Eslick said she opposes the measure, adding, “We need to give our officers more tools, not take them away.”

Oregon enacted a new law in March 2022 that included a provision banning police officers from initiating traffic stops due to one broken headlight, taillight, brake light or registration plate light. A different section of the law featured language “recognizing that systemic racism exists within this state and within the criminal justice system, and that culturally specific organizations and culturally responsive services must be expanded to address those disparities.”