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What could traffic enforcement look like with no or fewer armed police? SNG task force wants to find out

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways logo, featuring an outline of a tree, a person sitting on a bench, a person running with a dog, a kid riding a bike and a parent riding a bike with kids.Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has created a “Re-Imagining Traffic Enforcement Task Force” to research best practices and organize with community to develop ways to enforce traffic safety without or with fewer police and to rethink which traffic laws are keeping people safe in first place.

As Yes Segura reported on Seattle Bike Blog last week, police in the United States have been tasked with traffic enforcement ever since the dawn of the automobile, and laws developed around traffic enforcement—many during Jim Crow and Prohibition—have eroded the 4th Amendment and provided police with wide discretion when making stops. This has resulted in wide disparities in who is stopped, who is searched and who is killed by police enforcing traffic laws. And it affects people walking, biking, driving and riding transit.

“Traffic enforcement is too often the pretext for armed police to stop Black and brown people, sometimes with catastrophic consequences,” SNG wrote in a blog post announcing the task force. “There must be a better way — but what exactly?”

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SNG has a good track record of researching and proposing policy changes focused on safe streets. But improving safety from car traffic doesn’t improve safety from racist police violence.

More details on the task force from SNG:

As part of our commitment to racial justice, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways (SNG) is looking at how the urgent calls for police accountability and defunding police intersect with our core issues of safe and healthy streets. Traffic enforcement is too often the pretext for armed police to stop Black and brown people, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. There must be a better way — but what exactly? That’s the question our newly-launched Re-Imagining Traffic Enforcement Task Force is set to ask.

An end to policing as we know it

As safe streets advocates, we believe strongly that the ability to get around safely to the daily necessities of life is a basic human right. And we recognize that policing practices, since the earliest days of U.S. law enforcement, have been biased, and often life-threatening, toward communities of color—especially Black people.

In response to the murder of George Floyd, and the abuse too many Black people suffer at the hands of police, people across the country are insisting: enough is enough. Our current way of policing needs to come to an end.

People and organizations have called for a wide spectrum of solutions—from reforming policing procedures to defunding and reallocating police budgets, from disbanding existing police forces to outright abolishment. How do these solutions play out in regards to traffic safety, where police have been entrusted with enforcing traffic violations and responding to traffic emergencies on the one hand—but found guilty of racial profiling, and too commonly, criminal brutality on the other? We’re determined to find out.

A task force to ask questions and find the best solutions

Over the next several weeks, under the leadership of urban planning expert, SNG founder and current board member Cathy Tuttle, and SNG community organizer KL Shannon, we will work with a diverse team of community members with expertise in transportation, mobility justice, criminal justice, public health and safety, and public policy to dig deep into Seattle’s system of traffic enforcement.

Our Re-Imagining Traffic Enforcement Task Force will take on these and other questions:

  • What is the appropriate role, if any, of police in traffic enforcement?
  • What other solutions could substitute for the role police currently play?
  • Are we enforcing the right laws, and are there some laws that are not just or effective at keeping people safe?

We will delve into available data, research best practices in other cities, consult with dozens of people on our advisory committee, and work in partnership with our local communities to map out a path to safer communities for all.

A significant initiative and commitment

We started out 2020 with an ambitious slate of safe streets priorities—including citywide Safe Routes to School solutions, creating walk/bike-friendly Home Zones in multiple neighborhoods, completing the Basic Bike Network downtown, and fixing our most deadly streets (Rainier Avenue, Aurora Avenue, and Lake City Way).

Due to the unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak and health crisis, we first reoriented our 2020 campaigns to these 8 COVID-response strategies to help communities stay healthy and moving.

Now, our Re-Imagining Traffic Enforcement Task Force represents another major initiative for SNG this year. This is the right time for every city to re-imagine and re-think how traffic enforcement works, and we are putting our shoulders into the work of getting it done here in Seattle.

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One response to “What could traffic enforcement look like with no or fewer armed police? SNG task force wants to find out”

  1. asdf2

    Glad to see this being looked into. One of my top reservations regarding “defund the police” has been concern that lack of traffic enforcement would lead to a substantial increase in dangerous driving, for which vulnerable, non-motorized users bear the brunt of any collisions. Definitely a good thing that both sides agree that traffic laws still need to be enforced.

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