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Should jurisdictions consider reducing traffic stops for minor infractions such as a broken brake light or license plate not clearly displayed?

In October 2021, the Philadelphia City Council passed a measure that bans police officers from stopping drivers based solely on minor traffic violations. Read our experts’ take on the issue of whether traffic enforcement should be decoupled from the police. Plus find out about a new initiative in Oklahoma that uses LPRs to identify uninsured vehicles.

Police1 readers respond

Obviously, by the poll results, traffic stops remain a hot topic. I expected the results to be more than 50% on the “yes” side.

In the “State your case: Do we need traffic cops?” article, co-author Jim Dudley did a good job of identifying both the driver and the officer’s side of a stop and especially the increase of risk to the officer when the “stop” requires some level of pursuit and all of the dangers associated with being out of a vehicle and exposed on the side of the road during the stop.

I think that is probably only part of the consideration for the responses of those who reported they believed jurisdictions should reduce stops for minor infractions. But I have to believe that part of the concern leading to those responses is also the increased likelihood over the past few decades that the driver armed.

For the officer riding solo, and especially when the backup is a distance away if available at all, the risk factor increases.

But with the use of technology and upgraded cameras on squad cars, changes in statutes and ordinances to put the infraction on the owner of the vehicle rather than the driver, and a few tweaks to training and procedures, I could see where it would be possible for an officer to run a minor violation to determine any concerns beyond the infraction, exercise discretion as to whether to make a stop (example a clear danger for the driver or others) and take a photo of the infraction that included the time, date and location (all possible upgrades for dash cam technology). The officer completes a short report at some point that is processed into an infraction delivered to the owner of the vehicle with the photo.

And this solution won’t necessarily reduce the primary reason police were pushed into this task in the first place, the revenue jurisdictions receive from traffic enforcement.

— Tom Higgins, Professor of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies, Illinois Central College


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