New SF policy aims to limit 'pretextual' traffic stops, tackle racial bias

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Saturday, February 24, 2024
New SF policy aims to limit racially biased traffic stops
A new San Francisco police aims to limit "pretextual" traffic stops by requiring officers to give people a reason for why they were pulled over.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco police officers will need to think twice about the reason they're making traffic stops. This comes after the city's police commission voted to adopt a new policy limiting "pretextual" traffic stops known to lead to racial bias.

After a tense meeting, San Francisco's Police Commission voted to restrict pretext traffic stops. Officers will be required to limit the enforcement of nine minor traffic infractions.

VIDEO: Data from CA traffic stops shows 'pervasive pattern' of racial profiling, report says

Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board found that police racial profiling remains a problem Hispanic and Black communities in California.

"In the meantime what would happen is that if anybody gets pulled over for a traffic stop the officer has to tell the person why they are pulling them over on camera. So it's a pause. It encourages the officer to pause when they are doing it and give a reason for what they are doing it," said San Francisco Police Commissioner Debra Walker.

The new policy could change law enforcement strategies. Under it, officers will be restricted from requesting vehicle searches without probable cause of criminal activity. They would also be limited in asking investigatory questions.

Walker was one of the commissioners who voted against the measure.

"We have issues with racial bias in our rules. Not enforcing them isn't necessarily the answer. Changing the training. Working with the officers. Changing the culture is really how that is going to happen. I want to see the information as we roll out in the next year of what the state changes say about that," said Walker.

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San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Brian Cox credited the commission for "doing the due diligence to reach out to so many different communities."

"This is a long time coming but it's also long overdue. We have to remember that these racial disparities and who gets stopped and searched didn't just pop up overnight. These are issues that this department has struggled with for a long time. In fact, the racial disparities kind of haven't changed since SFPD began collecting data," said Cox.

A 2020 ABC7 I-Team investigation of traffic stop data found that between July 2018 and March 2020, Black drivers were 4.4 times more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers. When looking at the most recent data available for quarter three of last year, Black drivers were still stopped at a much higher rate than other drivers.

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The president of the San Francisco Police Officers' Association called the commission's vote "ridiculous."

"They make it about a race issue because the numbers are too high for the particular demographic in this city. Like, so what are we supposed to do? We can only stop this many of certain people but everyone else is fair game? That is not how it works. The law is the law and we try to apply it equally to everyone," said Lt. Tracy McCray, President of the San Francisco Police Officers' Association.

Lieutenant McCray said officers should have the authority to make decisions based on what they're seeing.

"When you say restricting you are saying that you are obstructing. You are impeding people from doing their job. I mean, we were the ones who took the oath to do this job. They certainly didn't," said Lt. McCray.

These changes are not effective yet. In the coming months, police officers are set to go through special training and a process to roll it out. The Police Officers' Association could file a lawsuit against the city and block the policy from being implemented.

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