LAPD chief greenlights new policy limiting minor traffic stops to 'eliminate bias'

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Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore is green-lighting a new department policy aimed at limiting “pretextual” traffic stops, or traffic stops for minor violations.

Instead, police will be encouraged to pull people over only if they are suspected of committing of other crimes including street racing, burglary, hit-and-runs, and narcotics possession, according to a letter from Moore obtained by Fox News Digital. Police will also be encouraged to restrict traffic stops for vehicle equipment and other minor violations.

“It is the Department’s policy that pretextual stops shall not be conducted unless officers are acting upon articulable information in addition to the traffic violation, which may or may not amount to reasonable suspicion, regarding a serious crime (i.e. a crime with potential for great bodily injury or death),” the new policy states.

The effort comes in response to concerns from Los Angeles community members that pretextual stops for minor violations to investigate other crimes “are arbitrary, capricious and a reflection of an individual’s implicit or explicit bias(es),” the letter states. The concerns stem from recent instances of routine traffic stops gone wrong — many of which are now recorded on police body cameras — in which officers use unnecessary force against individuals whom they sometimes wrongly suspect are armed and dangerous. 

Activists and supporters of Black Lives Matter, march on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death on May 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Activists and supporters of Black Lives Matter, march on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

To “eliminate bias” within the LAPD and among its officers, the Department “seeks to hone the focus of its traffic enforcement and crime prevention strategies … while also strengthening trust and improving community relations,” the letter states, adding that “less attention” should be given to “vehicle equipment violations,” such as a missing license plate.

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“The days of proactive policing — of actually going out there, showing high visibility, doing traffic stops, doing pedestrian stops, looking for suspicious behavior, looking for small vehicle code violations that could possibly lead to discovering a gun in the car — those days are going to be gone now,” a source close to the LAPD who spoke to Fox News Digital on the condition of anonymity said. 

The Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) has been pushing back against the new policy, which spokesperson Tom Saggau said is not set in stone yet after the union and other police groups met to negotiate on Tuesday.

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“The premise … for a policy that would dramatically limit and, in many instances, eliminate traffic stops doesn’t make a lot of sense if you want a safer Los Angeles,” he said. “Last year there [were] close to 8,100 guns that were booked into evidence in Los Angeles, and many of those weapons were had as a result of car stops.”

He added that the Southern California city’s murder rate is up 50% since 2019, and shootings are up more than 50% since then.

LAPD officers draw their weapons while they make a felony traffic stop at the corner of Gage and Grand in South Los Angeles.

LAPD officers draw their weapons while they make a felony traffic stop at the corner of Gage and Grand in South Los Angeles.
(Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The policy will “disincentive officers from any proactive traffic enforcement,” Saggau said.

“If I’m an officer and I pull a car over and it happens to be a person of color, am I going to want to get jammed up and disciplined because I am enforcing the law? What this memo and the various discussions don’t say is every one of those pretextual stops is legal and lawful,” he explained.

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The new policy also states that traffic stop “decisions should not be based on a mere hunch or on generalized characteristics such as a person’s race, gender, age, homeless circumstance or presence in a high-crime location.”

But Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith, spokesperson for the National Police Association and a 29-year police veteran, says police relay on that “mere hunch” during traffic stops. 

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“I’ve pulled over people who have done armed robberies, who had done retail theft, who had done burglaries and on and on,” she said. “… A good street cop knows how to engage people and weigh their answers. That’s part of an investigation. A uniformed patrol officer is basically a detective on the street.”

She said officers conducting routine traffic stops often catch criminals accused of other crimes including illegal firearms possession, narcotics possession, kidnapping and even more serious crimes if they happen to be known gang members or wanted criminals. 

Unidentified Los Angeles Police Department officers move a handcuffed man to a patrol car after he and another man, far left, tried to outrun the police. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Unidentified Los Angeles Police Department officers move a handcuffed man to a patrol car after he and another man, far left, tried to outrun the police. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

In a recent example, Mississippi authorities pulled over a man last month for reckless driving and discovered a 15-year-old passenger in his vehicle whom he had contacted online. The man, Oliver Diaz Gutierrez of Houston, has since been charged with kidnapping, child exploitation, and enticement of a child for sexual purposes, according to the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office.

The LAPD source said officers learn how “little things can lead to big things” in police academies.

“We were always taught that there were always the potential that little things can lead to big things. Now they’re taking that away from us,” he said. “So now those gang members that are out there on the street know that they can’t be stopped.”

Brantner Smith believes such a policy could disincentive people to renew their licenses and registrations.

“What motivates you to ever renew your license plate? What motivates you to ever get insurance? What motivates you to ever then have a working vehicle?” she said. “… What we’re going to end up with is, let’s say, unfortunately, you get into a crash with somebody who has never renewed their license plate and couldn’t be pulled over because of it.You end up paying for whatever happened to you during that accident.”

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The former officer added that she thinks policies like this one are “anti-citizen and they are anti-cop.” She also argued that negative or violent interactions between police and civilians can be avoided if civilians comply with officers, especially during a time of heightened distrust. The National Police Association launched a campaign last year urging the public to cooperate with law enforcement under the slogan, “Comply now, complain later.”

“We have a crime crisis on our hands in this country, especially in large urban areas like Los Angeles. But certainly … in Los Angeles, these kinds of policies are not going to help, and they are going to further add to this crisis,” she said.

Fox News’ Bradford Betz contributed to this report.

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