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Politics

Stopping Cars Isn't Solving Crimes

Corey Friedman on

If hospitals were run like police departments, doctors would loiter in the lobby to pounce on patients who have mild sprains and stuffy noses while gunshot victims languish in understaffed emergency rooms.

As fatal law enforcement shootings amplify controversial calls to defund the police, communities can sidestep the political rancor by reordering agencies' priorities instead of slashing their budgets.

In the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, a police officer shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright on April 13 after stopping his car over expired license plates. Police said Officer Kim Potter, who's since resigned and now faces a second-degree manslaughter charge, was trying to arrest Wright on an outstanding warrant and accidentally shot the young Black man when she mistook her service pistol for a Taser.

Katie Wright recounted a phone call from her son moments before his death, telling news outlets he thought an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror prompted the traffic stop. A New York Times story notes that the common car accessory "may be treated as illegal in a majority of states," leading to high-risk encounters between cops and motorists.

Police initiated contact with more than 28.9 million drivers and passengers in 2018, the most recent year for which Bureau of Justice Statistics figures are available. Former insurance defense lawyer Brandon F. Jones of Florida says police write roughly 41 million traffic tickets each year, an average of 112,000 a day.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs reports that an estimated 250,000 murders remain unsolved, a number that grows by about 6,000 homicides every year. Despite technological advances in police forensics and DNA testing, the closure rate for rape cases plunged from 62% in 1964 to 32% in 2017.

 

If police were to shift resources from patrol to detective divisions and emphasize solving violent crimes over snaring hapless drivers, agencies could resuscitate their public image and reduce the potential for tense traffic stops that end in needless deaths.

Don't blame your police chief for the disproportionate focus on vehicle infractions. Federal and state governments dole out lucrative grants for participation in enforcement campaigns with catchy names like "Click It or Ticket" and "Obey the Sign or Pay the Fine." When umbrella agencies incentivize checkpoints and citations, local police tend to follow the money.

Too bad there's no PR-friendly program with a cutesy rhyme devoted to solving cold-case murders.

The reprioritization premise extends beyond speed traps and seat belt citations. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020, Baltimore Attorney Marilyn Mosby directed prosecutors to dismiss all criminal charges for nonviolent offenses including drug possession, prostitution, trespassing and having an open alcoholic beverage container in a motor vehicle.

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