After a five-hour debate at Wednesday night’s Police Commission meeting, the commission did finally adopt a policy to bar SFPD from making stops for nine specific traffic infractions that supporters of the ban say are ticky-tack offenses meant to search, incarcerate, and prosecute people of color.
For the last eight months, there’s been a contentious back-and-forth between the SFPD and the SF Police Commission (plus the obligatory bellyaching from the Police Officers Association) over whether to craft a new policy to ban the SFPD from making some pretextual traffic stops — that is, stops for minor infractions like broken tail lights or expired tags. Critics say these stops rarely prevent actual crimes, and instead represent a blank check to stop-and-frisk Black and brown drivers, while officers say such stops are a must for proper traffic enforcement.
Back in December, the Police Commission hammered out a compromise that whittled the banned stops from 14 stops down to to nine. And so Wednesday night, the matter was debated, and the commission did vote to ban those nine pretextual stops, by a 4-2 vote
As the Chronicle notes in their writeup of the vote, these types of stops are disproportionately applied to people of color. “A Chronicle analysis of data from SFPD stops that occurred between July 2018 and June 2022, showed that Black people were 10.5 times more likely to be pulled over in a pretexual stop than white people. The data also showed that during that same time period, Black people were 4.4 times more likely to be pulled over for any traffic violation by San Francisco Police compared to white people.”
Prior to the vote, Police Commission president Cindy Elias defended eliminating these low-level stops, arguing they distract police from prosecuting more serious crimes. “Do we want our officers focusing on the person who ran a red light? Or do we want the officer to focus on the person that doesn’t have a front license plate?” she said at the meeting, according to Mission Local.
Opponents of the ban argued the proposal needed more feedback from the Police Officers Association. “Something so important can wait 10 more days,” commissioner Jim Byrne argued. “The idea is to bring as many San Franciscans along with the policy," adding, “Let’s not do this stuff ad-hoc.”
But the proposal did pass, bringing San Francisco in line with other cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., which have passed similar bans, though the specifics differ.
So what kind of traffic stops will SFPD no longer make? The complete list is in the full text of the legislation the commission passed Wednesday night, but we’ll bullet-point these below:
- Rear license plate number not clearly visible
- Registration tags not visible, or expired less than one year ago
- Rear license plate not illuminated
- Tail lights not working
- Brake lights not working
- “Objects affixed to windows or hanging from the rearview mirror”
- “A vehicle that fails to activate a turn signal continuously for 100 feet before turning”
- Person sleeping in the vehicle
- Pedestrian stops “unless there is an immediate danger that the pedestrian will crash with a moving vehicle, scooter, bicycle, or other device moving exclusively by human power”
Image: BrokenSphere via Wikimedia Commons