March 2, 2024

Changes to traffic and pedestrian stops, police pursuits, LAPD Chief Michel Moore, and more


PERF members,

Today I’d like to highlight a couple recent news articles and provide an update on a PERF project.

Changes to traffic and pedestrian stops

Several jurisdictions are revising their rules around traffic and pedestrian stops.

The San Francisco Police Commission recently voted in favor of a new policy that will limit San Francisco officers’ ability to conduct some low-level traffic stops, as well as the questions they may ask and searches they may conduct once someone is stopped. Under the new policy,  SFPD officers may not stop vehicles for nine low-level offenses, such as having a taillight out or failing to make a turn signal, unless it’s a commercial vehicle or an individual in the vehicle was involved in a more serious offense. And once they stop a vehicle, officers may only ask investigatory questions or ask for permission to conduct a consent search if they have reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity.

Also, as of January 1, all California officers making traffic stops are now required to inform individuals of the reason for the stop, rather than asking, “Do you know why I stopped you?”

And the New York City Council recently passed the How Many Stops Act, which requires officers to document, every time they interact with a member of the public for an investigative purpose, the individual’s demographics, the reason for the interaction, and the outcome of the interaction.

It is clear communities and elected officials are seeking new means of engaging in oversight of the police, which is an important conversation. But I worry that these restrictions will have a chilling effect on the conscientious cop who wants to engage with community members in the very locations where trust is most needed. I’ve previously discussed aspects of this issue in this column, and it warrants continued monitoring and discussion as new efforts emerge.  


New research on the effect of de-policing

In a needed addition to the field, particularly given the discussion of limiting traffic and pedestrian stops, a team of researchers – University of Nebraska Omaha Professor Justin Nix, University of Cincinnati Professor Jessica Huff, Michigan State University Professor Scott Wolfe, University of Colorado Boulder Professor David Pyrooz, and University of Utah PhD Candidate Scott Mourtgos –  recently released a study in Criminology on the effects of reductions in policing in Denver as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests and riots after the murder of George Floyd. The researchers found that “(De-)policing impacts crime. Reduced stops were associated with more violence in most Denver neighborhoods. Reduced drug arrests were likewise associated with increases in property crimes.” On the other hand, reductions in traffic stops had a much smaller relationship with crime trends, and “changes in disorder-related arrests were unrelated to changes in crime.”


Fatal police pursuits

Police chases are nothing new – they’ve been around since the first patrol car and are in almost every movie or tv show about policing. But there’s a growing consensus nationally of the danger inherently associated with a high-speed chase, for the officer, the suspect, and the public. And there’s a growing sentiment that the risk is not outweighed by the benefit of catching subjects, except in more extreme cases.

This week the San Francisco Chronicle published an extensive investigation into injuries and deaths caused by police pursuits. “At least 3,336 people were killed as a result of police pursuits throughout the U.S. from 2017 through 2022,” the Chronicle wrote. “At least 15 of them were officers. More than 52,600 people were injured from 2017 through 2021, according to government estimates.”

The Chronicle reviewed a selection of these cases in depth, finding that “of the 1,877 people killed in these cases, 1,562 of them died in pursuits initiated over traffic infractions, nonviolent crimes or no crime at all. Just 1 out of 15 people killed in these cases were drivers chased over a suspected violent crime.”

In recent weeks, the Kansas City Star also published a detailed series on fatal police chases in their region, finding that “across the Kansas City metro, many police departments allow officers to pursue cars for any violation, at any time – with devastating consequences. More than 320 people have been injured in the last five years, and several have died.”

I wrote about this issue in September when PERF released its guidance on vehicular pursuits. PERF’s recommendation is that agencies only pursue when two conditions are met: (1) a violent crime has been committed and (2) the suspect poses an imminent threat to commit another violent crime. These investigations indicate that there is a pressing need for agencies to understand that policy matters; without strong restrictions and training, we will continue to see needless fatalities.


Bump stock ban before the Supreme Court

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments about the constitutionality of a rule enacted by ATF in 2019 that classifies bump stocks as machine guns. According to news reports, the justices’ questions did not clearly signal how they would rule on the case.

Our 2019 report on reducing gun violence recommended banning the sale and importation of bump stocks, so I hope the Supreme Court allows ATF to keep this rule in place.

The Supreme Court of the United States

Officer wellness webinar series

PERF and NORC at the University of Chicago have been co-hosting a webinar series on officer wellness, thanks to funding from the National Institute of Justice. For those who have not been able to attend, videos of the first two webinars – Fostering Holistic Health and Wellness in Law Enforcement and Police Perceptions of their Work and its Impact on their Health – are available on PERF’s website, and the third, Promoting Health and Wellness for Women in Policing, will be available shortly.

The fourth webinar, Supporting Officers After a Critical Incident: Model Programs, will be held on Thursday, March 14 from 2:00-3:30 EDT, and you can click here to register. We will soon announce a date for the fifth and final webinar, Managing Officers’ Everyday Health Issues.


Thanks to Michel Moore for his years of service to PERF and the profession

Finally, I want to recognize Chief Michel Moore, who retired from the LAPD Thursday after more than 40 years with the agency, including nearly six years as its chief. I first had the pleasure of meeting Mike in 2004 when he attended PERF’s Senior Management Institute for Police. He’s served on PERF’s board of directors since 2020 and has been an active and engaged participant in our town hall meetings. I’d look out in the audience and Mike would often be the first to raise his hand and would always ask great questions. Mike and I have argued about nearly everything, but we have mutual respect and belief in the value of research and debate. His legacy will be as a leader who worked to make policing better in every way. He was there for us when we needed him, and I wish him the best in the next chapter of his life. Whatever he does, Mike will continue to make a difference.

Chief Michel Moore at the 2023 PERF Town Hall in San Diego

Have a fantastic weekend.