A Florida Lawmaker Introduced Legislation to Remove Traffic Enforcement From Police
Cities across the country have begun exploring traffic enforcement without police. This bill proposes doing so statewide.
Florida state lawmaker Omari Hardy has introduced a bill that would shift some traffic enforcement away from armed police officers and instead hire trained traffic monitors. The bill, dubbed the Public Safety Innovation Act, would limit when law enforcement officers may initiate traffic stops and also calls for the creation of non-police crisis intervention teams.
The measure is unlikely to pass or even get a hearing in the Republican-controlled state legislature. But this may be the first time in the country that such a statewide proposal has been raised. Many cities have begun exploring traffic without police, but a review by The Appeal of state legislation aimed at reducing the roles and responsibilities of police did not find any other bills with this scope.
“I think that police officers play much too large a role in public safety in America,” Hardy told The Appeal. “We’re putting too much on our police officers, and we’re asking them to do things outside of their core competencies. … There’s no special ability that police officers have that [makes] them more capable of writing a ticket than somebody without a gun. This is about making sure that police can focus on doing the things that they’re good at and occupying the role that police ought to play.”
Under Hardy’s proposal, each city and county in Florida would be required to create a Public Safety Department by July 1, 2023. The department would have distinct operational divisions with different public safety functions, including law enforcement, traffic enforcement, crisis response and intervention, and emergency call answering and dispatch. The bill also seeks to hire civilian crisis responders.
The traffic enforcement division would employ traffic monitors responsible for “monitoring vehicular and pedestrian traffic, enforcing applicable state and local traffic laws, and investigating vehicular crashes.” Trained traffic monitors would not have guns (though they may have stun guns or pepper spray to use in self-defense) and would be responsible for enforcing traffic laws and writing tickets for moving violations. Police may still be called to assist traffic monitors in their enforcement duties when necessary under certain circumstances under the measure.
Traffic monitors would not be permitted to detain, search, or arrest people or conduct criminal investigations in most circumstances. They would also not be allowed to chase drivers simply for refusing to stop or fleeing after a stop, unless the traffic monitor has a reasonable suspicion that the driver has hit a person or property or committed a non-traffic related felony involving violence or the imminent threat of violence.
The bill would prohibit law enforcement officers from initiating traffic stops for moving infractions and would only allow them to initiate stops if the officer knows that the driver or passenger of the vehicle has an outstanding felony warrant for a violent offense, has proof that the driver or passenger is involved in an ongoing non-traffic related felony, or observes the driver excessively speeding, racing, driving recklessly, or driving under the influence.
In the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, there have been more calls to rethink America’s reliance on police as a cure-all to societal issues they are ill-equipped to deal with. Traffic stops are the most common way people come into contact with police, and those encounters can often turn deadly. Cities across the country are beginning to reconsider requiring armed officers to also play the parts of homeless services worker, mental health and substance use counselor, school safety agent, and traffic enforcer.
Removing some traffic enforcement from police departments would significantly reduce the number of interactions people have with police. Over 24 million people each year come into contact with police during a traffic stop, according to data from the Department of Justice. Such stops can be especially dangerous and discriminatory for people of color, who are more likely to be stopped and searched than white drivers. According to a Washington Post database of police killings, 11 percent of all fatal shootings by police in 2015 occurred during traffic stops.
“To me it’s a simple math problem,” Hardy said. “People have a number of interactions with sworn law enforcement officers, a percentage of those are going to go south. Reduce the number of interactions and you’re likely to reduce the number of negative interactions between law enforcement officers and the public.”
Cities across the country have introduced legislation aimed at reducing the amount of traffic enforcement that is handled by police. In February, the Los Angeles City Council passed a motion to explore removing armed police officers from traffic enforcement. The city plans to conduct a study examining whether it would be possible to civilianize traffic enforcement.
Berkeley, California, passed a proposal in July that will create a department of transportation (BerkDOT) to shift traffic and parking enforcement away from the Berkeley Police Department. Unarmed BerkDOT agents will instead be responsible for carrying out traffic stops. In February, the city moved forward with the proposal by passing additional policy changes to iron out some of the details of the measure. Under the measure, Berkeley police will no longer be able to stop drivers for only minor traffic violations like expired vehicle registration or not wearing a seatbelt. Police will be directed to conduct traffic stops only for violations that endanger public safety, like excessive speeding or driving under the influence.
Proposals similar to the one passed by Berkeley were explored in Cambridge, Massachusetts; St. Louis Park, Minnesota; and Montgomery County, Maryland, last year. Elsewhere, bills have been proposed that would bar police from pulling people over for minor traffic infractions, like tinted windows, faulty brake lights, or dangling air fresheners. New York’s attorney general recommended that the NYPD stop handling traffic stops. And in 2019, Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., moved the city’s automated traffic enforcement away from the jurisdiction of the police department to the Department of Transportation.
A Stanford Law Review article by Jordan Blair Woods, a criminologist and legal scholar at the University of Arkansas School of Law, puts forth a framework for how local governments can disentangle traffic enforcement from the police department. Hardy’s bill follows much of that proposed framework. Under Hardy’s bill, traffic enforcement divisions would not be allowed to require traffic monitors to meet ticket quotas, and any funds generated by tickets could only be spent on public transit or pedestrian or cycling safety infrastructure.
“Florida needs this legislation, even if the Republicans that control the legislature aren’t willing to hear it,” Hardy said. “I hope this bill gets a hearing. … I hope that this will move the conversation forward so that others who want to unbundle the police have a decent model to start with and improve upon.”
“Rather than persisting in this broken status quo in which police officers are asked to do things that they really aren’t equipped to do … we should devise a new system that addresses the full range of public health issues,” Hardy said.