‘Let’s lead the way’: Bronx senator wants traffic enforcement taken away from police

Senator Alessandra Biaggi awnts to establish a new, non-police and non-weaponized Traffic Safety Service within the NYS Department of Transportation dedicated to ensuring traffic safety
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A Bronx lawmaker recently penned an op-ed sharing her thoughts on why traffic enforcements should be taken out of the hands of police officers.

Senator Alessandra Biaggi released an Op-Ed. in October, where she claimed the largest predictor of police violence is contact with police.

“Racial bias pervades traffic enforcement, enabled by its largely discretionary nature; there are more drivers speeding and violating other traffic laws than police have the capacity to pull over and ticket, so who are police disproportionately targeting? People of color,” Biaggi said in the op-ed.

The senator told the Bronx Times when the George Floyd murder happened, she began thinking of ways to re-imagine public safety.

Philando Castile, 32, was pulled over 46 times in Minneapolis prior to being shot and killed by a cop. Of the stops, only six were things a police officer would notice from outside a car, such as speeding or a broken muffler.

Also, Sandra Bland, 28, was pulled over for failure to signal a lane change by a Texas State Trooper, arrested and later found dead in her jail cell by what police claims to be a suicide.

“My effort towards ending police violence is really about the public’s safety,” she said.

Biaggi explained that cops can search a vehicle at a traffic stop if they believe there is probable cause. However, there is also “driving while Black,” which found that Black people are stopped nearly 40 percent more than white people.

Last month, Attorney General Letitia James suggested removing the NYPD from routine traffic stops in order to reduce police violence.

But the senator wants to take James’ recommendation further.

She wants to establish a new, non-police and non-weaponize Traffic Safety Service within the NYS Department of Transportation dedicated to ensuring traffic safety, with anti-racism built into the unit’s DNA.

“While procedural policies focusing on training, de-escalation, and heightened standards for use of force have value and can reduce police violence, reforms such as implicit bias training and body cameras have shown limited success,” Biaggi explained.

In September, Data for Progress conducted a survey of likely general election voters in New York about removing traffic enforcement from police jurisdiction and it was revealed that people back it by a 24-percentage-point margin — 54 percent voted in  support while 30 percent oppose it. Also, in New York City, 70 percent of residents supported a Traffic Safety Service, with just 20 percent opposed to it.

While this policy has never been implemented in the U.S., places like New Zealand  have shown success in enforcing the policy. For 60 years, the country maintained a Traffic Safety Service that acted independently of the police. Studies have shown that it improved its relations with law enforcement.

Biaggi stressed to the Bronx Times that she is examining different ways to craft a bill and create a Traffic Safety Service. She said one step towards the Traffic Safety Service would be automated enforcement.

The senator also touched on qualified immunity, which essentially protects police from being liable for their actions. In June, Senator Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn introduced a bill that would eliminate this in New York for cops.

Biaggi stresses that she want members of the PBA to have a seat at the table when the Traffic Safety Service is discussed. Her goal is to have a bill drafted by the next legislative session.

“With calls to defund the police and to fundamentally improve American policing at their highest levels, removing police from traffic enforcement would radically reduce police contact and improve public safety,” the senator said. “Let’s lead the way.”

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