The SF Police Commission is scaling back a plan to do away with most traffic stops in San Francisco, after public safety advocates and members of the public expressed concerns about the potential impacts on street safety.
A plan that was first introduced by the Police Commission in May, to significantly curtail the ability of SFPD officers to pull drivers over for minor infractions, is already getting some changes, is already being revised ahead of a public hearing next week. As the Chronicle reports, an original proposal to ban traffic stops by police for 14 different types of infractions has been whittled down to nine.
Under the revised proposal, SFPD officers could still pull people over for illegal U-turns and unsafe lane changes, because these are actions that lead to potentially crashes. But cops will not be permitted to pull drivers over for failure to use a turn signal, a single broken tail light, or the lack of an illuminated license plate.
Still on the list of reasons police can pull people over is littering — police say these stops are so rare they are not worth banning — and having tinted windows or a broken headlight can get you pulled over as well. Traffic stops for both of the latter infractions, police say, often lead to the discovery of illegal drugs. Also, if both of a car's taillights are broken and you're driving at night, this will be subject to a ticket.
Police Commission Vice-President Max Carter-Oberstone — who was at the center of that recent scandal about the mayor having commissioners sign undated resignation letters that she can deploy as she sees fit — tells the Chronicle that the Commission will take public comment on the traffic-stop issue at its December 7 meeting, but will not vote on it until a later date.
“The fiscal, human, and societal costs [that pretextual stops] impose on our City are unjustified in light of more effective public safety tools at the Department’s disposal," the commission said in a statement. "Expending less time and money on these stops will free up substantial resources that the Department can use on more effective public safety strategies."
Data on police traffic stops in California and elsewhere shows significant racial disparities in who tends to get pulled over — and advocates suggest that unnecessary traffic stops too often escalate into incidents involving police shooting citizens. The City of Berkeley's city council voted in 2021 to limit the reasons that police could pull people over, but what began as a sweeping ban on traffic stops there when it was proposed in July 2020 was scaled back by the final vote to still allow for some investigative stops, and the pulling over of dangerous drivers.
Berkeley police are banned from using "random observations of minor equipment violations" as a pretext for a traffic stop — but it does not sound like they have broken down specific equipment violations the way the SF Police Commission is doing.
As the police union did in Berkeley, the San Francisco police union is pushing back on this proposal, saying that fewer traffic stops will mean fewer illegal guns taken off the streets. And the community group Stop Crime SF has posted a message to members on social media saying, "The result [of this proposed reform] could be more traffic accidents, more shootings, and more crime. Your help is needed to prevent this!"
You can make your voice heard on the issue either remotely or in person on December 7. The commission meeting starts at 5:30 p.m., and you can find more info here.
Photo: Jesse Collins