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Next Year, California Police Must Tell Drivers Why They’re Stopped

Starting Jan. 1, police officers across the state will be required to tell drivers why they’ve been stopped before they can start asking questions. Agencies will be required to track whether officers are complying.

California police will soon be required to tell drivers why they've stopped them before they can start asking questions.

The new bill, A.B. 2773, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2024, will also require all police agencies to track whether officers who stop drivers are complying with the law.

During its meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 19, members of the Los Angeles Police Commission asked commanders what the new law would mean for officers making traffic stops.

"This is instead of the officer asking a driver, 'Do you know why I pulled you over?'" LAPD Captain Steven Ramos told the commission. "Now, the onus is on the officer to tell the individual why they pulled them over."

On its face, the law written by state Assemblyman Chris Holden of Pasadena and passed in 2022 would require officers to give drivers basic information about the reason they're being detained.

But the changes to what police are required to tell drivers could also lead to fewer of what are known as pretextual stops: That is, the police practice of stopping drivers purportedly for minor traffic violations with the intent of searching the driver's car for contraband such as drugs or firearms.

The bill would target "stops whose predicate is mostly discretionary and constitutes a minor infraction like overly tinted windows, dangling objects on a windshield, or broken tail lights," wrote members of Oakland Privacy, a Bay Area-based civil rights group in support of the law.

Police have used such stops for decades when attempting to break up suspected drug trafficking operations in local communities. And the practice remains legal, with the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of pretextual stops in several rulings.

But in recent years, scrutiny of their use has increased as civil rights advocates have pointed out extreme racial disparities in who police pull over.

In Tuesday's meeting, LAPD officials noted the department had had already wound down its own pretextual stop policies after a 2020 internal review found they were largely ineffective as well as disproportionality targeting people of color.

That Office of Inspector General report released showed the LAPD was stopping Black and Latino drivers much more often compared to White drivers for minor traffic violations, as well as subjecting them to more intense searches of their vehicles.

The intent of the searches was to suppress violent crime, Inspector General Mark Smith wrote in the report. But the strategy didn't work: Officers actually found more drugs and guns when they had a reasonable suspicion they might actually find contraband by stopping a vehicle versus when they initiated a pretextual stop.

As a result, since 2022, the LAPD has already been encouraging officers to tell drivers why they were stopping them while recording that interaction on their body-worn cameras, said Lizabeth Rhodes, who directs the department's Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy.

The change in state law just meant the rule would shift from a strong suggestion to a legal requirement.

"Our pretext stop policy talked about 'shoulds,'" Rhodes told the commission. "(A.B. 2773) is the Legislature acting. Now, this is a 'shall.'"

(c)2023 The Whittier Daily News, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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