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Bill To Ban 'Pretextual' Stops Pulled

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By Jorge Casuso

September 25, 2023 -- A push by police reform advocates to halt "pretextual stops" by Santa Monica police was set back this month after the California legislature killed a bill to eliminate the practice statewide.

Senate Bill 50, authored by Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would have eliminated routine traffic stops that allow police to investigate potentially more serious crimes.

The Santa Monica-Venice NAACP -- a staunch advocate of the bill -- has argued that the "particularly concerning type of stop" disproportionately targets minorities. Police counter that such stops have prevented more serious crimes in the city.

Bradford pulled the bill -- which was strongly opposed by police unions and prosecutors -- shortly before the legislative session ended on September 14, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee.

“California is not as progressive as we want the rest of the world or the rest of the country to believe,” Bradford said.

“We tend to continue to lean toward law enforcement and the lock-them-up attitude than real police reform and criminal justice reform that this country and this state truly needs.”

The failure of the bill comes some two months after the City's Police Reform Commission took up a report on identity profiling in Santa Monica ("Police Reform Commission Takes Up Identity Profiling," July 10, 2023).

Data compiled by the Santa Monica Police Department in 2022 shows that Blacks were involved in 15.4 percent of the stops, while they made up 4.3 percent of Santa Monica's population and 9 percent of LA County's population.

The report, however, cautions that drawing demographic conclusions is difficult because Santa Monica borders Los Angeles on three sides and its population can swell on an average holiday weekend from 90,000 to half a million.

Local Civil Rights activists counter that the data reflects reports from "many community members (who) have years of lived experience enduring frequent pretextual traffic stops."

SB 50 would have "limited law enforcement’s ability to use minor, non-safety-related traffic infractions to conduct, what are often, racially-biased, pretextual stops," Bradford said in February.

Minor infractions include such things as the lack of a registration tag or front license plate or a headlight or brake light that is not working. Under the bill, drivers could be puled over for two or more minor offenses.

"We have seen far too many times how traffic stops can rapidly escalate and turn deadly," Bradford said. "In this day and age, there’s no reason why Californians should be stopped and potentially subjected to brutality or dehumanization because of an expired license plate."

The California District Attorneys Association -- which called pretextual stops a "very effective tool" -- said Bradford's bill "jeopardizes public safety, undermines the rule of law, and reduces accountability for low level infractions."

The stops, the association told legislators, are "often used by law enforcement to gather information needed in an ongoing criminal investigation, apprehend a suspect who is wanted for having committed an unrelated criminal violation, or to investigate an unrelated offense."

Bradford, who saw a similar bill fail in the past, said he would bring the bill back next year.

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