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Los Angeles: Police Union Resists Changes to Pretextual Stops

by Jayson Hawkins

In March 2022, the Los Angeles Police Commission, an oversight board of the LAPD, implemented minor policy changes to the way the department conducts pretextual stops. According to the Los Angeles Times, officers “can no longer use minor violations as an excuse to investigate motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians for more serious crimes unless they first have information that justifies the intrusion.”

The new policy does not halt the common practice of pretextual stops, but it is intended to limit law enforcement from unleashing a barrage of probing questions that have nothing to do with the stated reason for pulling a person over. Moving forward, the Los Angeles Times reported that when officers do perform a pretextual stop, “they now must record themselves on their body-worn cameras stating their reasons for suspecting a more serious crime has occurred, according to the new rules. Officers who fail to do so will be required first to undergo training and will face increasingly severe discipline for subsequent violations.”

To be clear, the LAPD can and will continue to stop people for minor offenses like traffic violations. The difference under the new policy is that cops will no longer have free reign to use such stops as fishing expeditions for bigger felonies. When officers do extend a stop, they now have to state a “reasonable articulable suspicion.” In other words, they need to announce a prior justification for an interrogation rather than claiming anything they happen to dig up is a justification after-the-fact.

Although the new policy brings the LAPD closer in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015), which forbade expanding a traffic stop beyond its stated purpose in the absence of probable cause or reasonable suspicion, the union representing the department’s rank and file objected to the changes on the grounds that “pretextual stops are critical to ensuring public safety and should not be restricted.”

The union’s statement claimed that the LAPD’s Newton Division seized 817 firearms over the course of 726 stops in 2021, which “prevented our residents from being shot, shot at, intimidated, victimized and murdered.” The union neglected to reveal the number of those 726 stops that were pretextual or how many of them would have been prevented by the new policy. What is known, according to the watchdog site Techdirt, is that “only 2% of traffic stops result in an arrest for any criminal activity,” and “the LAPD stops black drivers at five times their share of LA’s population.” 


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