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Alan K. Jones: Police and citizens would benefit from fewer traffic stops

The tension created when an officer stops a driver is likely to end in tragedy.

(Hartford State's Attorney via AP, File) This May 3, 2019, photo, a still image from police dash camera video, released by the Hartford State's Attorney, shows Police Officer Layau Eulizier pointing his weapon at a car being driven at him by Anthony Jose Vega Cruz during an attempted traffic stop April 20, 2019, in Wethersfield, Conn. Eulizier who fatally shot the 18-year-old after running in front of his car and firing through the windshield was justified in using deadly force, a state prosecutor announced Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

A shot fired at or by a police officer has a high probability of ruining lives on both ends of that gun. Many of these events occur as part of a traffic stop. Let’s save lives and reduce the suffering of officers, citizens and their families by minimizing the number of traffic stop interactions.

I propose all traffic stops be eliminated, except for those in which the driver’s behavior is clearly endangering others on the roadways.

It appears the two primary reasons traffic stops occur in such great numbers are:

• Budgets that rely on the ticketing fees to pay for government activities

• Police can stop and interact directly with many citizens, searching their cars and possessions, as a way to discover criminals without having to seek a warrant first.

We can easily deal with the first reason by simply using traffic cameras and patrolling officers to take photos of plates and drivers and mail tickets to the registered owner of the car. Existing technology is fully capable of raising the funding and eliminating some of the expenses involved in the officers’ time required to issue tickets. Whether traffic tickets are the way we should fund government activities is a debate for another time.

The core of this proposal is to eliminate the dangerous interactions that frequently occur in traffic stops. These interactions result in too many officers and citizens being shot, or bystanders being killed through high-speed chases.

As drivers know that their backgrounds will be checked when the officer runs their information through the database, criminals who are pulled over are on high alert to fight or run. Officers are aware that each traffic stop could result in violence and must approach each driver they pull over as someone who could threaten their lives. Even innocent drivers are nervous and filled with adrenaline.

This is an environment in which misunderstandings and poor choices result in violence and death far too often. Perception, backed by data, of how race plays out in our current culture adds one more element of stress for people of color and the officers interacting with them.

Detective work would become the primary method for seeking for criminals rather than sifting through the entire population via traffic stops for a very small fraction who are potentially guilty of a crime. That sifting process takes a great deal of time for our trained officers, and also for the citizens who are not criminals.

Eliminating these dangerous interactions will yield time for officers that can be focused on the essential work of cultivating trust within the community. Officers will have more time to personally interact with members of the community in friendly interactions, generating more remarkable stories of playing basketball with young men at a park, rescuing people or pets in need, creating human connections between officers and citizens of the community, and reducing the tension between our wonderful police officers and our marvelous communities of color.

Let us respond to this crisis in our communities across the nation and be willing to redesign a process that currently leads to far too much bloodshed and grief. Let us shift our efforts from generating fear to cultivating trust, respect, and love for everyone in our community between our residents and our servants in uniform.

Alan Jones

Alan Jones is an instructor in the College of Business at Western Governors University, specializing in using data to create better processes within businesses. He observed how policing is done in Argentina while living there, and in multiple states in the USA. He has three married sons and three daughters-in-law, two are women of color. As a white male, he has benefited from the best this nation has to offer, and now champions the rights for all Americans to have the same privileges.

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