Police traffic stops drop in wake of George Floyd protests

President Trump says he would use an 1807 law to use military force against protesters if riots break out should he be re-elected. (AFP via Getty Images)
President Trump says he would use an 1807 law to use military force against protesters if riots break out should he be re-elected. (AFP via Getty Images)

Police in Minneapolis have made 80 per cent fewer traffic stops each week since the death of George Floyd.  

Bloomberg CityLab first reported the findings.  

According to the data, the drop in traffic stops following Mr Floyd’s death was much sharper than a decrease in stops during the coronavirus lockdown two months prior.  

In addition to a decrease in traffic stops, decreases in “suspicious vehicle” stops and “suspicious person” stops have also declined, though at a lesser rate.  

Stops for “suspicious vehicles” – during which police stop a vehicle they believe may have been used in a crime – dropped 24 per cent. “Suspicious person” stops, where police question “someone who does not belong, appears out of place, or whose actions are suspect” were also down 39 per cent.  

CityLab said the Minneapolis police did not offer comment as to why the number of stops has declined.  

The drop in police stops may be an example of police “pullback”, a recent phenomenon in which police departments that have faced public scrutiny have reined in their proactive policing policies. Traffic stops represent for the bulk of police officers’ interactions with the public. Reducing them also reduces the likelihood that officers will have to interact with people.  

A lawyer speaking to CityLab said they were representing hundreds of police officers who were trying to resign from their departments, many citing post-traumatic stress disorder associated with the recent public backlash against police brutality and systemic racism in law enforcement.  

According to Stanford University’s Open Policing Project, nearly 50,000 drivers are stopped by police on a typical day. Most of the stops are intended to warn drivers that they’re driving in a way that is unsafe or in violation of the law.  

However, police can – and often do – use traffic stops as a gateway to investigate individuals suspected of being involved in violent crime or violating drug laws.  

Stanford found that when stops were made for these purposes, black individuals were 20 per cent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. When examined against the city’s demographics – 64 per cent white, 19 per cent black – it appears more black residents are pulled over than white ones, despite the population disparity.  

Despite the decrease in stops, the racial bias factoring into who gets stopped does not appear to have subsided. 

According to police data from Minneapolis, between the end of May and the end of august, 47 per cent of traffic stops were of people who identified as black and 7 per cent were people identifying as East African. Only 24 per cent of those stopped identified as white.  

While many police departments rely on traffic stops as a primary driver for drug arrests, the jury is still out on whether the stops actually provide a more efficient means of stopping drug crime.  

A 2017 research project by the Stanford Computational Policy Lab found that traffic stops had “no discernible effect on serious crime rates, and only infrequently resulted in the recovery of contraband of a custodial arrest,” after examining traffic stops in Nashville in 2017.  

Mary Moriarty, the Hennepin County Chief Public Defender, had similar results after conducting her own research into the efficacy of the stops.  

““What we wanted to get at was, okay, so we have these really large racial disparities, but are they finding lots of contraband? Is it worthwhile? Is it an efficient use of police resources?” she said. “What you see from this data is it doesn’t work very well.”

Ms Moriarty said that black residents in her community know they are being profiled, and that the constant feeling of police suspicion has eroded trust in law enforcement in black communities.

“When I talk to people in the community, black people know they’re being profiles,” Ms Moriarty, who is white, said. “Nobody stops my car because my tail light’s out and then tries to search it.”  

The change in Minneapolis may be reflective of the city voting to “disband” its police department, though it is currently unclear exactly what that process will look like when it takes place. 

Read more

Police fire tear gas on crowd protesting fatal police shooting in Pennsylvania

Female journalist pinned to ground and arrested by LAPD while filming police being heckled