Over the years, Americans have been spending increasingly more hours in their cars. Thusly, it’s no wonder this is where most people’s encounters with police occur. About a million drivers are stopped across North Carolina alone every year.
Research has found that Black and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be stopped and more likely to have their vehicles searched than other drivers. Further, according to one University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill professor, the majority of traffic stops don’t involve safety issues.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen too many times, a traffic stop for a non-safety-related issue like expired license plates can have fatal consequences. People have begun to increasingly ask why it’s necessary for law enforcement officers to stop people for nonmoving violations rather than just take down their license plate information and mail them a citation. Why not focus on people who are endangering public safety by driving recklessly or perhaps under the influence, running stop lights and speeding?
A lesson from Fayetteville
One new North Carolina police chief asked that same question back in 2013 and decided to change the way the Fayetteville Police Department worked. He instructed his officers not to make traffic stops unless there was an immediate safety issue. The change came not long after a Fayetteville police officer fatally shot a man during a traffic stop.
The UNC professor notes that too many officers use traffic stops as an excuse to investigate. A Columbia Law School professor explains, “Public safety and traffic law enforcement merged with criminal investigations. And that was the basis for expanding the police’s discretionary power.”
However, the UNC professor’s research has found that just 2% of traffic stops lead to arrests. One criminal justice professor says police often conduct traffic stops to demonstrate their value to the force.
The potential impact of fewer traffic stops
Proponents of having fewer traffic stops point out the positive impact this could have on the lives of drivers of color. Meanwhile, it would free up a considerable number of hours for police to spend in the community improving their relationship with those who live there.
Whether you receive a ticket during a traffic stop or it’s mailed to you with a red-light camera photo or other evidence, you have the right to dispute it if you believe you were wrongly cited. An experienced attorney can help.