NYPD should stop making traffic stops, attorney general says

AG Letitia James argued that traffic stops for minor infractions sometimes end in violence


By Michael R. Sisak
Associated Press

NEW YORK — New York's attorney general on Friday recommended the New York Police Department get out of the business of routine traffic enforcement, a radical change she said would prevent encounters like one last year in the Bronx that escalated quickly and ended with an officer fatally shooting a motorist.

Attorney General Letitia James, who acts as a special prosecutor appointed to investigate certain police killings, argued that traffic stops for minor infractions often end in violence and that Allan Feliz's death last October after he was pulled over for a seat belt violation “further underscores the need for this change.”

In this Aug. 6, 2020 file photo, New York State Attorney General Letitia James addresses the media during a news conference in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
In this Aug. 6, 2020 file photo, New York State Attorney General Letitia James addresses the media during a news conference in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

James’ office concluded that the NYPD's use of deadly force was justified but that the sequence of events leading to Feliz's death would never have happened if police hadn't stopped him in the first place. Police further heightened tensions by attempting to arrest Feliz on outstanding warrants for low-level offenses such as spitting, littering and disorderly conduct, James' office said.

The NYPD declined to comment.

Feliz initially complied when an officer asked him to get out of his car, but then jumped back in and tried to flee, James' office said in a report on his death that included the recommendation about police yielding traffic stop duties.

Sgt. Jonathan Rivera then fired a stun gun at Feliz and climbed into the car, warning, "Yo, boss, I am going to (expletive) shoot you,” as Feliz shifted the vehicle into gear and began moving. Rivera shot Feliz once in the chest, killing him.

James' office concluded Rivera was justified in shooting Feliz in part because he feared the vehicle's movement was endangering another officer standing nearby, the report said.

“The officer’s alleged justification is a fairy tale,” said Robert Vilensky, a lawyer for the Feliz family, which is suing the NYPD. “The car which they say was moving was at best moving 2 mph. That wouldn’t knock over a fly.

“The justification is a made-up story to rationalize killing an unmarked civilian,” he said.

The NYPD has a separate unit of personnel who are not officers but direct traffic and hand out parking tickets — but who also have limited interaction with the public. James' recommendation is aimed at officers who stop people for things like speeding, seat belt infractions and other issues.

If police officers are to remain involved in traffic enforcement, James' office said, the police department should drop a policy that encourages officers to arrest any motorist who is found to have an open warrant.

Instead, the report said, drivers with open warrants should be arrested only with a supervisor's approval if an officer had reasonable cause to believe they were a danger to the community.

“It is highly unlikely that the incident involving Mr. Feliz ... would have escalated in the manner it did in the absence of this automatic arrest policy," James' office wrote.

NEXT: Berkeley moves forward with police-free traffic stops

READERS RESPOND

General James, 

I am a law enforcement officer in Tennessee and I must say, I am completely dumbfounded.

I am sure I share the sentiment with most of my brothers and sisters who proudly put on a uniform every day and protect society. I hope you are not serious in saying NYPD Officers should stop making traffic stops. 

I took the time to list some information I found on the Internet relating to traffic crashes:  

According to the Department of Transportation traffic data through December 30, 2019, New York City experienced 218 total traffic fatalities, including 121 pedestrian deaths and 28 cyclist deaths. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), in the United States in 2019, an estimated 38,800 people lost their lives to car crashes (2). 

What do you think is going to happen if you take away traffic enforcement from the police? Do you seriously think people are going to self-police?  

First off, your analogy is completely wrong. It is not the police officer’s fault that fatal shooting traffic stops end up the way they do. At what point does the motorist/citizen/criminal take responsibility for their actions? At what point do politicians, such as yourself, quit making excuses for the motorist/citizen/criminal who chooses to exhibit inappropriate behavior towards a police officer during an encounter?

The next thing politicians are going to say is the police need to stop having encounters with the public. I feel like we are seriously moving towards a society that resembles the 1993 movie "Demolition Man." If you haven’t watched it, you should.   

I don’t have concrete facts to support this opinion, but I venture to say 99.9% of all police shootings would not happen if the person would comply with an officer’s orders.   

Politicians such as yourself send the message to people that it is okay to resist an officer.  

A concerned LEO. 

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