Traffic Without the Police
53 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2020
Date Written: September 30, 2020
We are at a watershed moment in which growing national protest and public outcry over police injustice and brutality, especially against people of color, are animating structural police reforms. Traffic stops are the most frequent interaction between police and civilians today and are a persistent source of racial and economic injustice. Black and Latinx motorists in particular are disproportionately stopped as well as questioned, frisked, searched, cited, and arrested during traffic stops. Traffic enforcement is also a common gateway for funneling over-policed and marginalized communities into the criminal justice system.
Piecemeal constitutional and statutory interventions are insufficient to address these systemic problems, which necessitate structural police reform and require a fundamental rethinking of the role of police in the traffic space. Traffic enforcement and policing are so intertwined today, however, that it is difficult to envision a world without police involvement in traffic regulation. Illustrating this point, one of the common critiques being lodged against the growing “defund the police” movement is: “Who would enforce traffic laws?”
This Article offers a different normative vision of our driving system that challenges the conventional wisdom that traffic enforcement is impossible without the police. A new legal framework for traffic enforcement is articulated, which decouples traffic enforcement from the police function. This framework offers a starting point for renewed thinking about the basic structure of traffic enforcement, the role of police in traffic enforcement, and the ways in which law and policy can be used as tools to achieve fairness and equality in traffic enforcement. The Article provides a comprehensive analysis of the important policy benefits of implementing non-police alternatives to traffic enforcement for public safety, policing, and criminal law reform, especially for people of color and other marginalized communities vulnerable to over-policing and over-criminalization in today’s driving regime. The Article concludes by addressing potential objections to removing the police from traffic enforcement.
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