Time and time again, we have stood at the junction of police brutality taking center stage with the senseless but brutal killing of an innocent civilian. From the horrific incident involving Rodney King in 1991 to the more recent beating and murder at the hands of the police of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, nothing has changed.
Traffic stops are considered to be one of the most common forms of interaction between the police and citizens. However, for many citizens, they also appear to be the most dangerous ones as well. Even though many people hold the view that traffic enforcement is a fundamental aspect of policing, it hasn’t been the case for ever.
A 2017 Washington Post study found that police forces receiving military equipment were more likely to have violent interactions with the public, regardless of the local crime rate. Has the currency of “Protect and Serve” changed?
When you consider the dangers you experience at traffic stops along with the disproportionate impact on people of visible minorities, the potential dangers aren’t outweighed by the benefits of traffic safety.
Traffic Enforcement Evolution
Over the decades, traffic enforcement has evolved significantly. In the early days, traffic was administered mainly through common law, with individual jurisdictions responsible for setting their own rules and regulations. That led to a patchwork of inconsistent laws that were difficult to enforce on a wider basis.
In the late 19th century, cities began introducing systematic urban traffic control systems that aimed to reduce congestion and improve safety by establishing basic road rules such as stop signs and speed limits. Further advances in technology helped in setting up communication networks between vehicles and police officers, allowing better traffic monitoring and speeding tickets to be issued remotely.
In the 1950s and 1960s, US Highway Safety Act authorized the construction of thousands of miles of roads across America, and with them came the need for stricter traffic enforcement. Automated cameras were introduced to monitor speed, red light violations, tailgating, and other dangerous behaviors. In recent years, many states have adopted automated ticketing systems that allow tickets to be issued without an officer present at the scene of the violation.
Today’s traffic enforcement is more comprehensive than ever before. In addition to traditional methods of enforcement such as police patrols and speed traps, technology-based solutions, including automated license plate readers, GPS tracking devices, facial recognition software, and drones, are becoming increasingly popular tools in many jurisdictions around the world. With these new technologies helping local administrations maintain order on the roads even when they are not physically present, traffic safety can be improved even further.
In the future, traffic enforcement will likely become even more automated and efficient as new technologies continue to be developed and adopted. By using these tools responsibly, law enforcement officers can ensure that roads remain safe for everyone.
A report released by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund found that minority drivers, in particular, are more likely to be stopped, searched, and even arrested than White drivers. The same study also discovered that during these traffic stops, African Americans drivers faced greater levels of hostility from law enforcement officers. This is a troubling statistic, given that research has shown that police encounters often result in heightened levels of stress and trauma for those involved.
Not only do traffic stops cause increased trauma for the person being stopped—they can also lead to harm due to the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers. In recent years, there have been multiple cases where excessive force was used during traffic stops with fatal consequences.
The recent killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis is a case in point, and with the release of the footage, it showed graphic violence with police officers beating Nichols fatally. Nichols was a FedEx worker and a 29-year-old father who was pulled over by the police for reckless driving.
After he fled on foot, the police beat Nichols severely, and he later died in hospital three days later. That has led to the firing of five police officers, who face charges of second-degree murder, kidnapping, and assault. Federal and State authorities are also investigating the officers.
These incidents further highlight how traffic stops create an environment of fear and distrust between communities of color and law enforcement.
The implication here is that traffic stops should be conducted in a manner that respects the rights of everyone involved while also minimizing potential risks. Unfortunately, this is not always the case as police officers often make snap judgments based on race or class. To address this issue, it’s important to ensure that law enforcement personnel receive proper training and oversight when conducting traffic stops. Additionally, there needs to be an emphasis on providing support services for those who have experienced harm or trauma due to a traffic stop. This can help ensure that individuals feel supported and respected when they encounter law enforcement officers.
Ultimately, if we are going to reduce the incidence of excessive force during traffic stops, it’s essential that we address the underlying issues associated with race and class bias. By doing so, we can create a more equitable environment in which everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The use of technology and connected cars has meant that police no longer need to operate at traffic stops. This is because of the ability of police to monitor vehicles remotely, providing real-time information about their speed and location, as well as any violations or suspicious behavior. Instead of having to leave their station or get in a patrol car and follow up on every hunch, staff can simply monitor the data from an entire fleet of vehicles from their desks. A great example of this technology was recently used by the Provo Police Department in Utah. In 2018 they deployed “smart stop” cameras along highway I-15 which automatically identified cars driving over the speed limit. The system generated tickets automatically without having to have an officer present.
Technology has also meant that police departments can be more efficient in their practices. Instead of having to set up speed traps or patrol certain areas, they can simply monitor the data remotely. This allows them to identify suspicious activity and act on it quickly without having to waste time by doing so manually. Furthermore, connected cars have also meant that police are able to respond faster when there is an incident. If a car has been reported stolen or involved in a crime, the police can track its movement through GPS and dispatch officers with the necessary information. This provides law enforcement with greater efficiency than before as well as increased safety for both citizens and officers alike.
In conclusion, the use of technology and connected cars can revolutionize the way police operate at traffic stops. It provides law enforcement with greater efficiency, as well as increased safety for all involved. As technology continues to advance, it is likely that we will see further integration of removing police officers from traffic enforcement altogether.
The only way to reduce trauma and reduce risks in traffic stops is by shifting away routine traffic responsibilities from the police officer. One option is to automate traffic enforcement via surveillance cameras, red light cameras or speed cameras. Take away the discretion of a police officer, replace it with an algorithm with very little discretion in enforcing the law. With the traffic enforcement technology available today, there should very little roadside interaction with law enforcement personnel. There can be no altercation with a radar camera.
Marc-Roger Gagné MAPP