Study: De-funding the Police Seems to Reduce Traffic Stops At Least

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As you’re undoubtedly aware, there has been a lot of pressure to de-fund the police this year following the highly publicized death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The city became the epicenter of violent and peaceful protests demanding police departments be stripped of funding that has since spread across the rest of the United States. Some cities, including Minneapolis, have already agreed to cut their budgets or abolish departments entirely.

While most of the ramifications of these decisions would be off-topic for this particular forum, a study came out this week examining how on-road policing has been impacted. Unsurprisingly, the number of traffic stops in Minneapolis has declined immensely. Since May 25th, Bloomberg’s CityLab estimated the department had made 80 percent fewer stops each week.

Based on the data provided, traffic stops cratered in the city almost immediately after Floyd’s death  especially moving and equipment violations. However, actions taken in response to suspicious vehicles dropped by 24 percent while suspicious person stops (which don’t include automobiles) declined 39 percent. While the Minneapolis City Council has voted unanimously to approve a proposal to eliminate the city’s police department entirely, the plan to replace it with “a department of community safety and violence prevention, which will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach” (sounds a lot like cops, frankly) has not yet been enacted.

So then, why have traffic stops slowed to a crawl if the regular PD has yet to be abolished?

From Bloomberg:

One explanation for the change in behavior could be the phenomenon of a “pullback” — police reducing their proactive activity in the wake of public criticism of their performance. In Minneapolis, officers are putting in requests to leave the department at higher rates than normal. One lawyer representing officers said he’s processing hundreds of requests from officers who want to leave the department, some citing post-traumatic stress disorder. Though the department budgeted for 888 sworn officers this year, MPD spokesperson John Elder told CityLab in August that there were closer to 830 officers at last count. The slowdown in stops might also be attributed to other factors, such as a potential change in police priorities, and the effects of Covid-19, which led to less activity on the street.

Either way, the trend could push Minneapolis farther from what criminal justice advocates say is an over-reliance on police to manage problems that would be better suited for unarmed, non-law enforcement officials. Amid calls to defund, dismantle or reimagine the police, portions of police budget cuts in Philadelphia and New York City came from removing some crossing guard duties from officers; Berkeley, California, council members moved this summer to create a new Department of Transportation that would handle most traffic stops in the police’s stead.

Ironically, New York City is worried that traffic will surge immensely once lockdown restrictions end. Ridership for mass transit was declining long before the pandemic and is assumed to remain heavily suppressed until months after a vaccine has been made widely available. It could result in a serious problem, though we doubt motorists will be heartbroken to learn they’ll be less likely to receive a ticket for going 10 over the posted limit or failing to notice a bum taillight. Critics are more likely to overlook that anyway and focus on the city’s elevated rates of violent crime over the summer or the presumption that funds have been squandered on a Manhattan Transit Authority nobody will use.

Things are more nuanced than that, obviously. But you get the idea.

The Bloomberg study goes on to examine presumed racial injustices and how best to combat them via various equity movements, but we’re once again moving well beyond the confines of what this website and author are about. However it did reference Stanford University’s Open Policing Project, which estimated that around 50,000 drivers and pedestrians are stopped by police on the daily. Assuming the de-funding movement continues picking up steam through 2020, that number could plummet as more cities adjust their budgets.

That would perhaps be less of a contentious issue if present-day rules didn’t leave so much up to police discretion. In most states, law enforcement can pull you over for basically any reason they want. Even those that have condemned Black Lives Matter and other movements aimed at abolishing or replacing local law enforcement have been in broad support of ending scattershot or brute-force policing tactics. Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey Sheila Oliver has called the concept of police abolition idiotic and dangerous. But even she noted that police reform needed to be tackled seriously in the United States last week at the September 11th memorial in West Orange, NJ.

“I am on board with police reform,” Oliver said on the anniversary of the attacks. “But police are needed.”

[Image: Grindstone Media Group/Shutterstock]

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