FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan. 12, 2023
Emma Tozer, GLIDE Foundation, email@example.com, (301) 383-3128
Jessie Seyfer, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, firstname.lastname@example.org, (415) 851-2212
Coalition of 110+ Civil Rights, Traffic Safety, and Community Groups Commends San Francisco Police Commission for Adopting Historic Policy to End Racially-Biased Pretext Stops
SAN FRANCISCO — Last night, in a historic win for racial justice, the San Francisco Police Commission voted 4 to 2 — with commissioners Max Carter-Oberstone, Cindy Elias, Kevin Benedicto, and Jesus Yanez voting in favor — to adopt significant changes to traffic stop policies to curtail the use of racially-biased traffic stops, also known as pretext stops. Police use these alleged traffic violations as a “pretext” to detain and search people, wreaking untold economic, physical, psychological, and intergenerational harm, especially against Black and brown San Franciscans.
The new set of rules constitutes the most comprehensive policy in the country to address racially-biased traffic stops. The new policy limits police from stopping community members for nine categories of vehicle code violations (see list below) as the primary reason for the stop. It also only permits police to ask investigatory questions or ask for permission to conduct a consent search if reasonable suspicion or probable cause for a criminal offense arises during a permitted traffic stop.
After many months of holding working-group and listening sessions to gather community feedback, the Police Commission passed the policy to address the fact that San Francisco mirrors the state and nation in over-policing communities of color via pretextual stops. In 2021, Black people made up less than 5 percent of the population of San Francisco, yet accounted for 26 percent of all stops and 36 percent of all searches.
In November 2021, the Coalition to End Biased Stops, a group of more than 110 community organizations and advocates, first presented a letter to the Police Commission detailing recommendations for ending racially-biased traffic stops in San Francisco. Since then, the Coalition has advocated for the Commission to identify a comprehensive list of codes for which SFPD cannot stop drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians, to ensure that Black and brown community members are protected from pretext stops. The Coalition commends the Police Commission for taking this critical step in ending pretext stops by approving many of these recommended revisions to its Department General Order, or set of policy changes. In the revised DGO that was approved last night, the nine reasons for stops that officers would not be able to use without further justification are:
- Failure to display a front license plate;
- Failure to display proper registration tags;
- Failure to illuminate license plate;
- Driving with malfunctioning tail lights (unless all lights are out);
- Driving with malfunctioning brake lights (unless all brake lights are out);
- Having an object affixed to window or hanging from rearview mirror (unless the item obstructs the driver’s view and substantially increases likelihood of injury or death);
- Failure to signal while turning or changing lanes;
- Sleeping in a car; and,
- Pedestrian or bicycle infractions unless there is an immediate danger of crash.
Members of the Coalition to End Biased Stops — which includes GLIDE Foundation, SF Bicycle Coalition, the ACLU of Northern California, Office of the San Francisco Public Defender, and Walk San Francisco — provided the following quotes in response to last night’s historic vote:
Miguel Bustos, Senior Director for the Center for Social Justice, GLIDE: “With this vote, the San Francisco Police Commission has finally recognized the inefficiency of pretext stops and the disparate harms they inflict. San Francisco’s communities of color deserve to be free from unjustifiable police scrutiny, and this DGO represents an important step to align the Police Department with best practices that have already been successfully implemented in other jurisdictions across the country. Our support for this policy change is deeply rooted in our own community histories of being targeted by police stops, and fighting against the pain and humiliation of these experiences.”
Claire Amable, Movement Building Manager at the SF Bicycle Coalition: “Ending pretext stops is a significant first step in making our streets safer for those walking, biking, and rolling. This is especially true for Black and brown communities, who are both historically harmed by the biased practice of pretext stops, and who live in neighborhoods that are significantly over-represented in our city’s High-Injury Network. Ending this practice allows SFPD to prioritize limited resources on enforcing those dangerous driving behaviors that actually harm and kill people, helping achieve the City’s Vision Zero goal by the end of next year. We hope to continue working with community stakeholders to alleviate concerns about bike safety and add bike stops back in the list of banned stops.”
Jodie Medeiros, Executive Director of Walk San Francisco: “Last night’s Police Commission vote to pass DGO 9.07 is huge for both safety and racial justice. Limited police resources should be focused on the most dangerous driving behaviors.”
Mano Raju, San Francisco Public Defender: “This vote to pass the most comprehensive policy limiting racially-biased traffic stops in the country is an important step toward healing racial injustices among communities affected by this pervasive police practice. These stops have unjustly entangled Brown and black people in the criminal legal system and have inflicted trauma and harm on generations of communities of color. I extend enormous thanks to our coalition partners for their dedication to driving change on this issue, and to the San Francisco Police Commissioners who joined this historic vote.”
Yoel Haile, Director, Criminal Justice Program, ACLU of Northern California: “Last night the San Francisco Police Commission voted to ban pretext stops, a law enforcement tactic that has been used all over the country to racially profile Black and brown people. While today we celebrate this key victory, we will never cease working to protect our community from police harassment and brutality.”