Despite Los Angeles Traffic Carnage, Cops May Have Traffic Role Taken Away as Justice Reformers Wish

PC: Cedric Letsch
Via Unsplash

By The Vanguard Staff

LOS ANGELES, CA – About 312 people were killed in traffic collisions in 2022 here, a 29 percent increase over 2020, and 159 pedestrians and 20 bicyclists were also killed by motorists, according to Los Angeles Police Department data reference by a Los Angeles Times story this past week.

The Times said “traffic carnage outpaced national trends.”

But The Times said the draft city transportation report determined it maybe won’t be the role of cops to “police” traffic enforcement in the future, noting three years ago the LA City Council first raised the prospect of removing traffic duties from the Los Angeles Police Department.

“The debate over what role police should have in enforcing traffic safety comes amid an alarming yearlong rise in road deaths and injuries. It illustrates both the promise and the challenge of removing armed officers from traffic safety duties,” said The LA Times story.

Noting “transportation safety advocates say persistent traffic violence, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, shows that the city needs to crack down harder on reckless driving,” The Times said criminal justice reform advocates have different ideas.

“Supporters of criminal justice reform argue for a less punitive approach. They say those communities have historically borne the brunt of over-aggressive policing, which they contend hasn’t made the streets any safer.”

And they allege that, even when such encounters don’t end in violence, the fines that often result can send people into spiraling debt,” wrote Times reporter Libor Jany.

Jany writes, “The debate over the role of law enforcement in traffic incidents stretches back decades but intensified in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis and the ensuing nationwide reckoning in which critics challenged some long-held assumptions around policing.”

The report suggests LA should be less reliant on law enforcement, using unarmed civilians to enforce “safety-related traffic violations” such as speeding, in the same vein as cities such as Berkeley, Oakland and Philadelphia.

The report also recommends the city should consider “means-based” fee models — such as vouchers to repair broken taillights — for traffic violators, measures that “advance traffic safety objectives and do not perpetuate enforcement disparities.”

“The draft report calls for further expanding the LAPD’s restrictions on so-called pretextual stops — using minor traffic violations as a reason to pull over vehicles and search them for evidence of more serious crimes. Such stops were already drastically scaled back after a Times investigation found that the department stopped and searched Black and Latino drivers at higher rates than white motorists,” the Times story reads.

The Times adds officials have “admitted these stops netted few arrests and undermined public trust.

“Police officials around the U.S. have been slow to rein in the practice too much, saying that it is still a tool for getting guns and drugs off the streets. LAPD officials have said they would be willing to relinquish certain traffic duties if they are picked up by another agency. But enforcement remains a top priority, they say, citing among other reasons the inherent dangers of traffic stops and a recent rise in accidents,” according to the Times story.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the LA Times “finding alternatives to a police response [to certain incidents] is something that the department is very much interested in. If DOT [Los Angeles Department of Transportation] were to pick that work up, I think we’d welcome it.”

Moore said, the Times reported, teams of mental health workers already respond to some calls involving people in crisis, without police present, and officers no longer “take traffic collision reports for anything other than the most serious traffic accidents.”

“Selling the proposed changes to the Los Angeles Police Protective League is another matter. Certain changes may have to be negotiated through collective bargaining, the report points out. And while the League, which is in contract talks with city leaders, has signaled its willingness to stop sending officers to certain low-level enforcement tasks, traffic duty is not one of them,” wrote the Times.

The Times said the report noted, “Even if Los Angeles wanted to put traffic enforcement into the hands of civilians, the assumption is that under the state vehicle code, such duties could only be handled by licensed peace officers….But there are plausible legal arguments that the vehicle code does not limit the City’s discretion in this area.

“The city Traffic Department already employs civilian ‘traffic officers,’ who direct traffic and enforce parking restrictions…while they are not technically peace officers, they have the authority to issue parking tickets and to perform other related duties,” the Times wrote, quoting the report.

“Among those responsibilities is arresting ‘individuals without a warrant for a limited but varying list of civil violations related to taxis and ride-shares and other violations related to streets and sidewalks such as causing obstructions or dumping of prohibited substances,” according to the report.

“The report’s authors looked to models in other cities that, instead of deploying armed police, have tackled traffic safety by reinvesting in street improvements and educating the public while exploring alternative methods for holding motorists accountable,” said the Times.

The Times added, “Berkeley, for instance, has been developing a new division that aims to send unarmed representatives to certain traffic incidents, instead of police, as the city works toward its goal of reducing racial disparities in traffic stops and ending serious crashes by 2028.

“In Philadelphia, officials voted to adopt a model of enforcement used in New Zealand, in which minor traffic violations are handled by unarmed public safety ‘officers’ who work for that city’s transportation department.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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