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Laying the Groundwork for Equitable Traffic-Stop Policies


Tuesday, October 5, 2021   

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Law enforcement agencies are reassessing traffic-stop policies amid concerns from racial-justice advocates.

In Minnesota, a new project is focusing research and financial support for these changes, to help people affected by these laws.

Brooklyn Center leaders recently noted their reform plans include ending arrests for non-moving traffic violations. Elsewhere, the Ramsey County Attorney said last month his office would no longer prosecute cases stemming solely from traffic stops that are not a threat to public safety.

Eric Jolly, president and CEO of the Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundation, said they are getting behind the county's plan with a new fund.

"When people's safety is not at stake, then there's no reason to create a system that causes that anxiety and doesn't reduce the safety concerns," Jolly asserted.

The fund will help determine if the changes are effective in avoiding deadly encounters, and it provides aid to low-income drivers in need of minor repairs that could lead to traffic stops, like a broken tail light.

The Stanford Open Policing Project showed in cities like St. Paul, police stop Black drivers at higher rates than whites. Some law-enforcement associations argued the rule changes will add to public safety problems, not decrease them.

But reform advocates contended longstanding policies about traffic stops rarely help law enforcement build a case. Instead, they said the policies have eroded trust between police and communities of color.

Jolly emphasized it is time to change that dynamic.

"Each time, the pull-over gets more and more anxiety provoking," Jolly observed. "And to stop that means that the next pull-over will have meaning and value."

Ramsey County's plan has the backing of local police leaders, including St. Paul's police chief. Jolly added the approach allows officers to better focus on more pressing matters.

"This is a critical issue as well in greater Minnesota," Jolly remarked. "The rest of Minnesota has to worry about, 'What are the availabilities of the sheriffs? How can we free up their time?'"

The fund will also help establish a way for drivers to be notified of a minor violation without being pulled over. Supporters hope the effort inspires other agencies to consider changes.

Disclosure: The Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Education, Health Issues, Human Rights/Racial Justice, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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