Prince James Story
Community members and activists voiced their support for Senate Bill 50 in front of the California State Assembly Public Safety Committee in Sacramento on July 11th.
The Senate bill, authored by Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), will prohibit a peace officer from initiating a motor vehicle or bicycle stop for five categories of low-level, technical vehicle code infractions unless there is a separate, independent safety-related basis for the stop.
For example, this bill would limit enforcement officers from issuing tickets for having expired registration or broken headlights. The bill would also allow California communities to choose the enforcement of certain traffic offenses.
“SB 50 will especially help to protect Californians of color from unnecessary harm and ensure that law enforcement has more time to focus on community safety by preventing and solving serious crimes,” said Bradford in a press release.
“The data clearly backs up the need for this legislation. Black Californians are far more likely to be targeted by police. Passing SB 50 will also help reduce the risk of harm to law enforcement officers by limiting the need for one of the most dangerous elements of their job.”
Charmin Leon, senior director at the Center for Policing Equity, testified at the hearing. Leon served with the Cleveland Police Department in Ohio for nearly 13 years.
Leon explained that too often, routine traffic stops turn deadly, especially for Black people and people of color.
Senate Bill 50 represents an important step toward addressing racial disparities and preserving officer resources and morale.
“There are a whole lot of other folks like me. [The] Center For Policing Equity has retired chiefs, retired command staff, myself — a retired Sergeant, because we believe that policing can be what the community needs [and] deserves in an equitable fashion and that we can help keep communities safe,” said Leon.
In Riverside County, the Sheriff deputies’ patrol unit spends 87.6% of their total hours on stopping members of the public on pretextual stops. Less than 13% of their time is spent responding to the public’s requests for service, according to an analysis produced by Catalyst California and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California.
Percent of Time Spent by RCSD Deputies
Less than one percent of people stopped for traffic violations in Riverside were arrested. Only 3.6% of all stops Riverside County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) conducted in 2019 led to an arrest.
The Catalyst California and the ACLU’s analysis of California’s 2019 Racial & Identity Profiling Act report suggest that these deputy-initiated stops hinder officers’ productivity in solving other crimes.
“Communities are safe when every person is healthy, secure, and supported,” said Chauncee Smith, senior manager of Reimagine Justice & Safety at Catalyst California. “Spending inordinate amounts of time on traffic stops for minor issues like broken taillights and outdated registration not only wastes public dollars but also leads to harassment, dehumanization, economic extraction through fees and fines, uses of force and death.”
For example, in 2022, there were 529 documented rapes, and RCSD had a clearance rate of 20.8%, according to the California Department of Justice (DOJ).
Their clearance rate for property crimes was worse. In 2022, RCSD cleared only 5.9% of property crimes in the county. They cleared 7.1% of burglary cases and 8% of motor vehicle thefts.
“There are men and women in policing who are waiting on someone to help them do what they do in a smarter fashion. Officers are called professionals, and they want to execute their duties in the way that they are seen as professionals. This does not support that. It undermines the legitimacy of policing as a whole,” said Leon about low-level traffic stops.
In addition to the time consumption of criminalizing low-level traffic offenses, Leon referenced the financial burden for the residents in these communities.
“The fear of police criminalizing low-level stops is because if someone doesn’t pay that ticket, a warrant is sent out for their arrest, and if they’re still unable to pay it, they’re gonna do jail time,” said Leon.
“It’s a snowball effect that has such a huge negative impact on communities that are oftentimes low-income communities. It’s just enormously burdensome, and it’s enormously traumatizing.”
The adverse effects disproportionately hurt Black communities, communities of color, and people who are already living in poverty. White people with a prison record see their earnings trend upwards, while formerly incarcerated Black and Latino earnings seem to plateau or decrease.
Being detained can lead to loss of wages and possibly loss of a job; those arrested on misdemeanor charges may see their annual earnings decrease by an average of 16%, according to the Brennan Center For Justice, Economic Impact Report.
Leon discussed the alternative form of criminalizing these low-level violations, such as issuing a “fix-it ticket.”
In California, a “fix-it ticket” is a citation for registration, insurance, or vehicle repair that can be dismissed upon proof of correction being submitted to the court.
Leon believes passing bills like SB 50 can benefit police officers and help them do their just more efficiently and effectively.
“I would have left policing and anything to do with it altogether if I didn’t believe that it can be done right. I believe it can be done right, and I believe that the more that police departments and the community most affected by disparate outcomes in policing work together along with their local officials, that we will get there,” said Leon.