Traffic Safety, Civil Rights Groups Urge SF Police Commission to Override Police Union’s Stalling and Enact Policy Limiting Racially-Biased Pretext Stops

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By Shriya Kali Chittapuram

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The Coalition to End Biased Stops (CEBS) stepped up its efforts to pressure the San Francisco Police Commission to adopt a policy to address the discriminatory practice of law enforcement officers using traffic stops as a pretense to search or detain individuals – the “pretext” policy has been in the works for 16 months.

As per the SF Public Defender’s office, while the policy was approved over a year ago and following extensive community engagement and input from the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), it has yet to be in effect due to the meet-and-confer process impeding it.

“The SFPOA has a documented history of obstructing policy reform by requesting to meet-and-confer with the Commission over issues that are not properly subject to bargaining and then extending those negotiations by months and years. In the last few years, numerous organizations at the federal, state, and local level have admonished the SFPOA for this practice,” said the Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF).

CEBS, involving over 110 civil rights, traffic safety, and community organizations, including GLIDE Foundation, SF Bicycle Coalition, ACLU of Northern California, Office of the San Francisco Public Defender, Walk San Francisco, and Secure Justice, wrote a letter hoping to end negotiations with the POA, and to allow the policy to proceed to a final Commission vote.

The Coalition letter states,“For more than two years, the Coalition has proudly participated in one of the most comprehensive DGO community outreach processes. In 2022 alone, the Commission held four public meetings and 7 Human Rights Commission-led community listening sessions across the city, in addition to two meetings just for officers. This DGO has also been discussed at Commission meetings more than a dozen times, with public comment.

“(T)he Human Rights Commission led an online survey process and reported on the survey results to the Commission. The Commission also publicly posted each DGO draft from May 6, 2022 until March 15, 2023, when the Commission unanimously approved to send the DGO to the meet and confer process. Before doing so, the Commission incorporated Chief Scott’s feedback, who actively participated in the entire process and supported the final version.”

According to the Quarterly Data Report released by the SFPD, Black individuals have been stopped by law enforcement officers six times higher than that of White individuals. When it comes to searches, the rate at which Black individuals are stopped is 10 times higher than that of White individuals, and for the use of force, it’s 21 times higher compared to White individuals.

The Coalition letter added, “The call to end pretext stops is no mere academic argument. The data continue to support ending pretext stops. Across California, officers stopping Black drivers took no further action (ticket, search, arrest, etc.) about 12 percent of the time. In other words, officers needlessly pulled over 1 out of 8 Black drivers likely just to fish for evidence of another crime, illustrating that the often-used phrase “driving while Black” is not a feeling but a measurable occurrence. 

“Locally, the data illustrate similar problematic policing based on the latest available data: SFPD officers stopped Black individuals at 6x the rate of white individuals, searched Black individuals at more than 10x the rate of white individuals, and used force on Black individuals at more than 21x the rate of white individuals. These disparities remain unacceptable and have sadly remained consistent as long as SFPD has been collecting data.”

In March 2023, the San Francisco Standard reported that the Commission unanimously approved Department General Order DGO 9.07, outlining the nine types of traffic stops that the SFPD is no longer permitted to use for the sole reason of pulling someone over without additional justification. 

But, the story added, this does not prohibit police from conducting traffic stops for dangerous driving or if officers have reason to suspect that a crime has occurred…this measure was approved by SF Police Chief Bill Scott.  

According to Commission Vice President Max Carter-Oberstone, “There are a cluster of low-level traffic stops that are just not yielding any public safety benefit for the city. But they do take up a lot of time and they do cost a lot of money and by curtailing those stops we can reallocate all of those law enforcement resources to other strategies that we know are effective.”

SF Mayor London Breed stated, “Banning the police from enforcing moving violations and dangerous behaviors that could result in injury or death makes absolutely no sense.”

About The Author

Shriya, known as Kali, Chittapuram is in her final year at UC Riverside majoring in Psychology with a minor in Law & Society. Kali has had a huge passion for law since high school, and aspires to attend law school in the near future to study Film & Entertainment law. In her free time, Kali loves to write, draw, and even act in films and theater.

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