Oakland police change tactics to reduce number of traffic stops

Bay Area

OAKLAND (KRON) – “We’re going to use our powers of policing judiciously, ethically, constitutionally, but not everything has to be enforced at the same priority level,” Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said.

A change in tactics for the Oakland Police Department.     

The chief says they are cutting back on stopping people for low-level traffic infractions.

There has been a drastic reduction in the number of traffic stops for African American drivers in Oakland.

Now, police are crediting a new strategy for bringing the number of stops down.

“Here is double parking right? Illegal! But is this something we would stop and issue a citation for? No! So that is something that we wouldn’t focus on. We’re going to look and continue our patrol,” Officer Johnna Watson said.

For the past three years, officers on patrol in the City of Oakland have been applying what police officials call a “smart strategy” aimed at reducing the disproportionate number of traffic stops of African American drivers.  

From 2016 to 2018, the number of stops has been virtually cut in half.

“With a goal and a mission to reduce racial disparities,” Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said.

Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick says her officers are now expected to apply discretion when deciding to pull a driver over.

“The way we have traditionally policed in America has indeed, at least I will speak for Oakland, it’s a disparity impact for our African American communities and other communities of color. We are no longer dragnetting, contacting so many people in our community that have nothing to do with the crime. We still enforce traffic control. We just prioritize the type of enforcement. We don’t put emphasis on equipment violations,” Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said.

A typical traffic stop for a busted tail light, for example, could last up to 20-minutes. 

Deputy Police Chief Roland Holmgren says now patrol officers can put that time to better use.

“It gives the officer the opportunity to concentrate on those serious crimes, to concentrate on if we are having a particular problem with robberies or shootings in an area,” Deputy Police Chief Roland Holmgren said.

While the overall number of traffic stops for African American drivers has dramatically decreased, the 2018 total of 10,874 reveals a problem of equity still exists when compared to 895 white drivers stopped in that same year.

“It’s good that we stopped fewer people but the percentage has to also be more equitable,” Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said.

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