Do We Need Police To Curb LA’s Traffic Violence? Some Cities Are Saving Lives Without Them

Should we have police do traffic control?  Actually, in Los Angeles and most other cities they do not, except for special events and major incidents and accidents.  Yes, we have what we used to call “fuzz ladies” giving out tickets for over parking—even that has pretty much been disbanded  with fewer and fewer—and I do not believe that carry a gun.

“One key question: Why do armed police officers enforce traffic laws?

Being pulled over while driving is the most common way members of the public interact with police. And the traffic stop is fraught. Both law enforcement and communities of color point to traffic stops gone wrong.

For police, that risk comes from uncertainty about who is in the vehicle and what their intentions are. For people of color, the danger comes from knowing that the person walking up to their window is armed and trained to kill when feeling threatened.

Critics say minor traffic infractions are often a pretext used by police to disproportionately stop, question and search Black and Brown people — and an abundance of research and reporting supports that.

So, to Progressives we should not have cops stop people for going through stop signs and red lights.  Great idea—watch as accidents rise and deaths ensue.  Speeding near a school—no problem mow down those kids.  Either these folks have no brain or really do not care about safety and traffic rules.  Imagine—NO RED LIGHTS, NOT STOP SIGNS, SPEEDING IS ALLOWED.  This is part of the chaos theory of the Left—maybe it is Darwinism, survival of the fittest.  If this happens, I will sell my Prius and but the biggest HUMMER I can find. The Army taught me to drive a tank, M-60-A1.  Maybe I can buy a tank for safety.

Do We Need Police To Curb LA’s Traffic Violence? Some Cities Are Saving Lives Without Them

By Ryan Fonseca, LA1st,  9/24/20 

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The movement to shift money from armed policing to care-based programs has gained significant momentum in recent months, including here in Los Angeles. Underscoring those efforts are big challenges to long-held assumptions about the jobs law enforcement should be doing.

One key question: Why do armed police officers enforce traffic laws?

Being pulled over while driving is the most common way members of the public interact with police. And the traffic stop is fraught. Both law enforcement and communities of color point to traffic stops gone wrong.

For police, that risk comes from uncertainty about who is in the vehicle and what their intentions are. For people of color, the danger comes from knowing that the person walking up to their window is armed and trained to kill when feeling threatened.

Critics say minor traffic infractions are often a pretext used by police to disproportionately stop, question and search Black and Brown people — and an abundance of research and reporting supports that.

At the same time, our roads remain deadly and many fatalities are tied to behavior officers are trained to handle, like speeding and reckless driving. In L.A. alone, almost 250 people are killed each year on city streets — about the same number of people killed in homicides in 2019.

The majority of those killed in collisions are pedestrians and cyclists.

Even before the protests this year intensified criticism of American policing, some safety advocates and traffic experts had been calling for a new approach. Instead of traffic stops by armed officers, they advocate for renewed investments in street improvements, education and alternative methods to hold drivers accountable.

There is mounting evidence that those strategies can make notable progress in reducing death and injury on the road — progress that has eluded L.A. in recent years.

WHERE WE ARE TODAY

In 2015, the city of Los Angeles launched Vision Zero, an ambitious program with a goal of eliminating traffic fatalities by 2025 — relying in part on increased police enforcement. Despite that, the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed by drivers has soared.

Safety experts, community advocates and city leaders have told me L.A.’s efforts so far are weak, sluggish and not working.

There’s a lot to unpack, but here are the key issues to consider:

Are the police effective?

A growing number of city officials and transportation experts view the impact of armed police enforcement of traffic laws as “mixed at best.” And given the history of racism in policing, particularly as it relates to traffic stops, many communities simply don’t equate police with safer streets and neighborhoods.

Are the streets safer?

No. Los Angeles streets have gotten more dangerous and deadly in recent years, especially for pedestrians. And data show that Angelenos in the city’s underserved communities, which include more people of color, are disproportionately killed in traffic crashes.

Do alternative methods work?

There is increasing evidence that they do. By rethinking traffic safety, some U.S. cities have made notable progress in saving lives on their streets. Much of this has been achieved through lowering speed limits, meaningful investments in “self-enforcing” street design and automated enforcement — efforts that don’t require police officers.

That said, some of those measures are harder to enact in L.A. (more on that in a bit.)

What’s the current thinking in L.A.?

This summer, a group of L.A. City Council members filed a motion calling on the city’s Department of Transportation and legislative officials to work with community members and report back on alternative methods of traffic enforcement, collision investigations and other traffic safety duties currently handled by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Some potential changes that will be explored: replacing LAPD officers with a “transit ambassador program” staffed by unarmed LADOT personnel and/or automated technology to monitor and cite drivers for speeding, illegal turns and other moving violations.

“Such a move would virtually eliminate the LAPD’s role in traffic stops, one of the leading forms of interaction between police and the public,” states the motion, which was filed by L.A. City Councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Mike Bonin, Curren Price and Herb Wesson.

A ‘RECKONING’ ON POLICE ROLES

Councilman Harris-Dawson told me recently he believes that the “moral moment” happening over policing isn’t just on law enforcement agencies. He says police have long faced a “raw deal” in the communities they take an oath to serve, handling a range of issues without enough training.

“Basically everything that society didn’t want to deal with or didn’t want to invest in — every problem that was created as a result of social policy — ends up with police officers,” Harris-Dawson said.

And he sees this as leading directly to the “reckoning” happening now.

“You have armed officers directing traffic, you have them taking reports after accidents, you have them settling arguments between kids after school,” he said. “Invariably, when you’re not trained to do something, things go wrong and then [police] bear the brunt of it as if it’s all their fault. In fact, many of these circumstances they ended up in because we sent them there.”

In the communities Harris-Dawson serves — the South L.A. neighborhoods in Council District 8 — he said residents don’t view interactions with police as safe.

“The horror and trauma that people go through over ‘routine’ — and I say that in air quotes — traffic stops, is just unspeakable, especially for people in my district,” he said.

Harris-Dawson told me some of L.A.’s communities of color have been hesitant to embrace Vision Zero; they don’t see its increase in police enforcement as a benign attempt to reduce traffic deaths, but as “a ruse to put more police on the street.”

“People do not associate more infractions, more traffic enforcement with increased safety, and for good reason — because all too often that’s not the point, or at least it’s mixed at best,” he said.

Brian Bowens lives in Leimert Park and, like many Black Angelenos, he is painfully familiar with racial profiling by police in traffic stops. It’s something he’s dealt with since his youth. He estimates he’s been stopped by police while driving or riding in a car about 175 times in his life, and was cited for traffic violations about 10% of the time.

He believes many police officers cannot recognize how “systemic compartmentalization” is affecting them and their perception of what traffic safety means.

“[Police] are taught to be violent, but that violence is not manifested from true malevolence,” Bowens said. “It’s manifested from them really thinking: ‘Oh, we’re improving traffic. We’re doing a good job. Of course I gotta get Black drivers off the street … of course, I gotta be harder and harsher.'”

In the aftermath of the 1992 unrest in L.A. sparked by the Rodney King verdict, Bowens, then a college student, was featured in a 20/20 segment about driving while Black. Decades later, he says, nothing has changed. It’s one reason he decided to forgo a car, and instead take public transit.

“I don’t like driving in L.A. for the fact that I know I have a higher incidence of being involved with the police,” Bowens told me. For him, the long history of systemic racism is ample reason to limit police roles in public safety.

Bowens recalled one encounter when he was a college student in the early ’90s. He was home in L.A. for a visit and spending the evening with a childhood friend. He was behind the wheel when a police officer stopped them at a sobriety checkpoint.

“First thing he does is shine the light in my face, looks at her, says, ‘Ma’am, is there anything wrong? Is there anything going on?'” Bowens said. “The whole thing just becomes very real very quick.”

His friend, who is biracial, started to panic. Bowens told her to calm down and not say anything. He said the officer then quickly ordered him out of the car, checked his ID and gave him a breathalyzer test. Bowens said he was allowed back to his car 15 minutes later, where his friend sat, visibly shaken by the experience.

“She’s bawling, she’s absolutely just irate,” Bowens said. “[I said] ‘you can’t give them any more excuses to come back to this car. I’m not even gonna pull off until you get your shit together.'”

Their friendship ended because of that night. “She literally could not deal with it,” he said.

Bowens said he believes the “humiliation” police officers put him through was intentional “because I was in a car with someone that they perceived as a white girl.”

RACISM AND TRAFFIC STOPS

Bowens’ experiences mirror that of many Black drivers, going back to the early days of the automobile.

In the name of curbing unsafe driving, people of color have faced discrimination from authorities and had their movement in states and cities “cast as a criminal act … just by the virtue of their race,” said Genevieve Carpio, assistant professor in the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies at UCLA and author of Collisions at the Crossroads: How Place and Mobility Make Race.

One example: the Mann Act, passed by Congress in 1910. The law was designed to stop human trafficking across state lines, but was used to criminalize interracial relationships, targeting Black men driving with white women.

“It not only led to more encounters with police, which could be deadly,” Carpio explained, “but it also disciplined and attempted to control interracial relationships between Black men and white women.”

The law was perhaps most famously used against boxer Jack Johnson, the first Black man to become world heavyweight champion. In 1912, Johnson was arrested, charged and convicted for driving a white woman, who later became his wife, across state lines for “immoral purposes.” More than a century later, Johnson received a posthumous presidential pardon.

Los Angeles in the 1930s provides another example. Carpio explained that’s when police began to target Latino youth for joyriding at the same time anti-Mexican sentiment was on the rise.

“Joyriding ordinances were broadly applied to Latino boys specifically, especially when they were driving outside of what were seen as Latino neighborhoods,” she said.

During this crackdown, Latino boys were arrested for joyriding at a rate double that of other boys in the city, Carpio said. The charge became the top reason for arrests of Latino boys in L.A. during that time.

“It’s not an infraction in driving, but it’s rather that police have deemed the person behind the wheel to be suspicious,” she said. “It’s one of those laws that’s deeply prone to racial profiling.”

As more communities openly question the entrenched links between policing and public safety, Carpio said it’s also imperative to rethink enforcement itself — even if that shifts from armed police officers to unarmed personnel, or automated cameras.

“Part of what we need to do is move from seeing things like expired tags or broken tail lights from criminal issues to economic issues,” she said. “We need to move from enforcement — which is a word similar to punishment and which doesn’t do much to prevent traffic accidents — to actions that would truly increase our well-being.”

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About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.

Comments

  1. There are some interesting ideas here. Understand as computer controlled autos have pedestrian recognition, auto braking, there could be a case for having zero stop signs in residential neighborhoods. All you need is a solar panel powered amplifier that records and then broad casts block away the location and speed of all vehicles including bikes and pedestrians.

    AI cars can then adjust accordingly. The catch is you know hackers will want to see how to get in and disable these nodes.

    As reported in an article here the “Vision Zero” with a decade of experience shows an increase in pedestrian accidents. Vivson Zero is a failure. When you inject the human factor most of these grand designs fail.

    Remember Communism failed at the Plymouth Colony. Enforcement is a bad word? It is the latest catch phrase to excuse bad behavior and criminal behavior.

  2. When I leave home it seems to me that 25% of the drivers on the street seem to think that the rules of the road are just recommendations. I see people driving at twice the speed limit blowing thru stop signs and lights and driving down the center divider when they don’t think traffic is going fast enough

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