Las Cruces Leader: Should There be a Moratorium on Routine Traffic Stops?
Commentary: I have been pulled over by law enforcement officers twice in the past year. Both traffic stops occurred in the middle of a pandemic. Both times, I was outraged by the disregard for my safety during the pandemic. Were the officers just doing their jobs? And, what exactly is their job, anyway? Both times I invoked my best people skills to make sure the officers were at ease, regardless of my ire. Both times I was furious but dared not show emotion or escalate the situation. I am painfully aware that all too often these encounters are costly, if not deadly.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, police misconduct is funded by taxpayers to the tune of eighteen billion dollars annually. And, while police officers are indicted in less than one percent of officer-involved killings, complaints of police misconduct can now be substantiated by video cameras. Last year, a teenager with a smart phone had the wherewithal to videotape a police officer as he defiantly restrained George Floyd who died a horrible death. This video has been viewed more than 50 million times. But for the video captured by a teenager, there would probably not have been an indictment in the killing of yet another unarmed black man. Twenty-seven million dollars later, the former police officer who took it upon himself to be judge, jury and executioner is now a defendant himself. And taxpayers will incur the civil liabilities and court costs to defend the indefensible beyond a reasonable doubt.
Even as the trial in the killing of George Floyd is underway, another wrongful death at the hands of a police officer has occurred just down the road. Another veteran police officer has killed a black man named Daunte Wright, age 20. The officer claims it was an accidental shooting. Incredibly, after twenty-six years on the job, a veteran officer expects the public to believe that she couldn’t tell the difference between a taser and a police-issued firearm. The events that followed the shooting were predictable. A family is grieving. The City Manager has been fired. The officer and the police chief have resigned. The National Guard has been deployed. The citizens are furious. And now, taxpayers will incur the cost of a nightmare that could easily have been avoided but for a fateful and unnecessary traffic stop during a pandemic.
An unsustainable business model allows police departments to rely upon revenue generated from fines, usually imposed upon those who can least afford to pay. The subsequent complaints from irate citizens and the resulting litigation costs far exceed the return on investment garnered from any funds these departments collect. Routine traffic stops can be a potential death sentence for citizens of color. Systemic racial profiling often leads to litigation which trickles down to the taxpayers. The tragic death of Anthony Valenzuela, another person of color killed during a disastrous traffic stop, has already cost the City of Las Cruces 6.5 million dollars. Future litigation expenses will also be paid by taxpayers. From a financial standpoint, this makes no sense. From a human standpoint, it is incomprehensible.
Perhaps it is time to change the norm. A moratorium on traffic stops might not be a bad idea? Instead of squandering taxpayer money to settle grievances and lawsuits, why not suspend the traffic stops and the overhead they impose on taxpayers and divert the savings to social programs, and education instead? Reducing opportunities for racial profiling should be on the table. This seems like an ideal time to think outside the box.