By Cody Green, Santa Monica Police Officers Association (SMPOA) Chairman and Lieutenant, SMPD
Recently the Santa Monica Public Safety Oversight & Reform Commission (PSROC) was given a presentation by a staff member for State Senator Steven Bradford’s office advocating for a change in the Santa Monica Police Department’s policy as it relates to pretext stops.
A pretext stop occurs when a police officer enforces a traffic law, like a broken taillight, to investigate potentially more serious crimes. Police officers have been using pretext stops for decades because they are a proven and constitutionally affirmed policing technique that keeps the community safe. Simple traffic stops led to the arrest of serial killers Ted Bundy and Joel Rifkin, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was arrested during a traffic stop that occurred for not displaying a license plate.
Critics of pretext stops claim that they disproportionally target people of color and that police officers use them to invade the privacy of those members of our community.
That kind of explicit racial profiling is wrong, should be condemned, and has no place in the public safety profession.
The presentation given to the PSROC was based on a recent change to LAPD’s policy. LAPD officers now must have a reason to suspect a more serious crime is afoot before initiating a pretext stop, and they are required to record their reasoning on body cameras before the stop.
Senator Bradford’s office pointed to initial data that indicated that since the policy change, there has been an overall decline in stops and searches. Of course, there has been, the bar for conducting them has been significantly raised. LAPD has essentially decided to let the “small stuff” go.
Here’s what else happened according to the same data set the Senator’s office cited. There were nearly 3,000 fewer seizures of illegal items in just five months. This included almost 1,700 fewer seizures of narcotics, like fentanyl, and 374 fewer guns taken off the streets compared to the year before.
Santa Monica Police Officers are highly trained to recognize suspicious activity. We also fully embrace the six pillars of 21st Century Policing, including receiving the latest anti-bias and de-escalation training. When we see a vehicle engaged in what we’ve been trained to recognize as suspicious activity and there is a code violation present, that gives us an opportunity to further investigate, we ought to be able to do that.
Santa Monica Police officers recognize the immense responsibility we have to keep the community safe and to do so in a fair and just manner without bias or animus. We urge our local policymakers and the members of the PSROC to keep responsible, proactive measures in place that ensure community safety. Any limiting of important investigative tools puts us all at risk.