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Reassessing Traffic Stops Can Prevent Racial Bias

Aug. 3, 2016

Traffic stops are considered by some people to be little more than a frustrating inconvenience. However, not everyone sees them this way, particularly if you are someone who ended up facing serious criminal charges after a traffic stop.

This link between traffic stops and criminal charges is nothing new, and neither is the data that suggests many stops are fueled by racial biases that unfairly target non-white drivers. Despite the fact that this is a known issue, many areas struggle to address it, leaving minority drivers across the U.S. at an increased risk of being stopped by police. However, in one city outside of Florida, officers have been ordered to take a different approach to traffic stops that has had a positive impact on racial disparity.

The story, which was reported by NPR, focused on a police force that was facing allegations of considerable racial disparity in traffic stops.

After looking at the reasons behind many of the traffic stops in the area, the police chief found that many were prompted by defective equipment. This could be an item hanging from a rear view mirror, illegally tinted windows, dimmed license plate lights or other conditions or items that are technically deemed “defective.”

Officers were then told to stop focusing on these minor infractions and instead prioritize stops involving more serious and unsafe offenses, like speeding.

Once this shift in priorities was made, it became clear that minority drivers had been pulled over far more often than white drivers had been for the minor infractions. When the defective equipment stops decreased, the number of black drivers who were pulled over also decreased by a whopping 25 percent.

So what does this mean for drivers right here in Clearwater?

Basically, this serves as a reminder to all drivers that a traffic stop can be biased. It also tells us that people are often stopped for very minor offenses only to be questioned by police and have their cars searched, which can result in more serious charges.

Considering all the problems that can arise from a single traffic stop, from allegations of racial bias to the filing of serious criminal charges, it can be crucial for drivers to consult an attorney if they have been stopped unfairly and accused of committing a crime.