Minneapolis to limit police traffic stops for minor offenses

Police in Minneapolis will no longer be able to pull cars over for low-level violations like expired license plates and air fresheners hanging from rearview mirrors.

Mayor Jacob Frey said Friday that he and police Chief Medaria Arradondo all but finalized a policy that will eliminate so-called pretextual stops by officers.

"We will soon end stops solely for offenses like expired tabs or items dangling from a mirror," Frey said on Facebook.

Although a Friday statement from the mayor's office said it would take effect immediately, a spokesman for Frey told NBC affiliate KARE of Minneapolis that details were still being worked out.

The policy was hailed by justice reform advocates after a series of high-profile shootings in Minnesota that that highlighted the often slippery slope from low-level violation to violent confrontation.

Police killings of Philando Castile, 32, in 2016 in St. Anthony; George Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis last year; and Daunte Wright, 20, in Brooklyn Center in April have made Minnesota a focal point for justice reform efforts.

"At this time, the less contact that people have with the police, the safer the community will be," said Trahern Crews, co-founder and lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Minnesota. "If Minneapolis takes these bold steps, we can be a model for the rest of the country."

The ACLU of Minnesota called the new policy "a good step."

"It's time to end policies that penalize people for being poor," the organization tweeted.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Law enforcement has long used minor violations to get a closer look at people they believe could be up to no good. An expired tag could lead to an illegal gun or a cache of drugs, but it can also put authorities armed for the worst at odds with people who are just trying to get by.

The practice opens the door to bias, experts say.

Black drivers are 20 percent more likely to be stopped by police, relative to their population, compared to white drivers, according to research last year from NYU and the Stanford Open Policing Project. Once stopped, Black drivers are as much as twice as likely to be searched, despite being less likely to be carrying guns or drugs, the research found.

It can put motorists in a financial hole for the cost of tickets, going to court, retrieving impounded vehicles and correcting violations, such as too-dark window tinting, reform advocates say. But of far greater concern, they say, is how deadly police encounters with Black people can get.

Castile was stopped in St. Anthony near Minneapolis–Saint Paul for a broken taillight. He was shot several times because he had reached for his ID after informing the officer he had a gun in the vehicle and was permitted to carry, according to his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. She and her 4-year-old daughter were in the car when he was shot.

Wright was driving an SUV with expired license plates when he was approached by police in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb. Officers discovered he had an outstanding warrant and tried to physically apprehend him when Officer Kim Potter opened fire. Police said she accidentally drew her gun when she had meant to use her stun gun.

While Floyd would not have been impacted by the policy because his death did not involve a vehicle stop, justice reform advocates say killings like those of Castile and Wright might be avoided by removing pretextual stops from officers' duties.

In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the stops. But in recent years, multiple jurisdictions across the country are questioning their benefits.

In 2019, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that police could not stop a motorist for a low-level violation, such as a broken taillight or a failure to signal a turn and then ask for consent to search the vehicle for weapons or drugs.

Last year, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said his office would no longer prosecute most drug suspects nabbed through an "infraction-related stop," even if the subjects consented to police searches.

Boudin said data supports the racially biased nature of such stops, which he compared to unconstitutional "stop-and-frisk" policing in New York City that targeted pedestrians.

Earlier this year, a Virginia law that limits pretextual stops went into effect.

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