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California Bill to Limit ‘Racially Biased’ Traffic Stops Fails

California Bill to Limit ‘Racially Biased’ Traffic Stops Fails

Santa Ana Police officers pull over a driver in Santa Ana, Calif., on Sept. 20, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Sophie Li

Sophie Li

9/27/2023

Updated: 9/27/2023

A California bill aimed at prohibiting most traffic stops for minor violations was placed earlier this month into the legislative “inactive file”—just prior to what would have been a final vote in the Assembly—leaving open the possibility of its reintroduction in the new year.
Senate Bill 50, introduced by Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would prohibit law enforcement officers from halting or detaining a driver for low-level infractions, such as expired plates or a broken taillight, unless there is an additional and distinct cause for the stop.
“I’m disappointed that SB 50 didn’t get enough support. We made a strong case that Californians deserve to be protected from harassing and ineffective police stops for minor, non-safety issues,” Mr. Bradford said in an email to The Epoch Times. “Evidently, not enough of my colleagues share the view that police shouldn’t be allowed to harass drivers like this. I will continue to work on this issue.”
The bill narrowly passed the Senate on a 22 to 11 vote with 7 abstaining in May.
Earlier this month, Assemblyman Issac Bryan (D-Culver City) requested the bill’s placement in the inactive file, which occurred Sept. 14, at Mr. Bradford’s request.
Mr. Bradford—who also vice-chairs the California Legislative Black Caucus—said such stops are often “racially biased,” with black and brown people targeted more by the police, in a press release after introducing the bill.
“SB 50 will help protect Californians of color from unnecessary harms and help ensure that public dollars dedicated to community safety are used more effectively,” he also said in a bill analysis.
Additionally, the bill would authorize peace officers to issue a citation or warning letter to the vehicle owner instead of conducting a traffic stop.
California State Sen. Steven Bradford attends the MedMen Red Jacket Preparation Launch with Brotherhood Crusade in Culver City, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2019. (Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for MedMen)

California State Sen. Steven Bradford attends the MedMen Red Jacket Preparation Launch with Brotherhood Crusade in Culver City, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2019. (Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for MedMen)

Supporters of the bill have asserted that people of color, including black, Hispanic, and Native Hawaiian individuals, are disproportionately subjected to such so-called pretextual traffic stops as a means to initiate more extensive investigations.
“Pretextual stops inflict devastating harm on Californians of color—including dehumanization, economic extraction through fees and fines, physical violence through uses of force, and devaluation of life,” according to the Prosecutors Alliance of California, one of this bill’s sponsors said in an analysis of the bill.
Conversely, opponents of the bill have argued that the current practice can assist law enforcement in resolving significant criminal cases, including that of a serial killer who murdered 12 women in the 1980s in Riverside County.
“When [officers] run the plates and they run the registration, a lot of time they will find bad people,” Republican Sen. Kelly Seyarto (R-Murrieta) said in a statement earlier this year. “Like in Riverside, when they got the notorious serial killer William Suff. He was actually pulled over for a taillight violation and subsequently they figured out who he was and arrested him.”
The bill was also heavily opposed by some district attorneys.
“[T]his bill … deprives peace officers of a very effective investigative tool that is often used by law enforcement to gather information needed in an ongoing criminal investigation, apprehend a suspect who is wanted for having committed an unrelated criminal violation, or to investigate an unrelated offense,” the California District Attorneys Association, a Sacramento-based association representing nearly 3,000 prosecutors statewide, said in opposition.
Additionally, the association said in a statement that permitting officers to engage in pretextual stops facilitates the investigation of drug transportation and sales, particularly when leads are provided by confidential sources.
“The traffic infraction is a ‘pretext’ to investigate another crime without jeopardizing the confidential informant’s safety,” the statement reads. “Recently in San Diego, for example, a broken taillight on a boat trailer yielded 20,000 fentanyl pills and 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine. That stop and others like it would not be permitted if SB 50 became law.”
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Sophie Li

Sophie Li

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Sophie Li is a Southern California-based reporter covering local daily news, state policies, and breaking news for The Epoch Times. Besides writing, she is also passionate about reading, photography, and tennis.

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