LIVE: Why Minneapolis Police Traffic Stops Have Plummeted Since George Floyd’s Death

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  • Bloomberg QuickTake: Now published this video item, entitled “LIVE: Why Minneapolis Police Traffic Stops Have Plummeted Since George Floyd’s Death” – below is their description.

    A data analysis of Minneapolis police activity shows a change in behavior in the months since the killing of George Floyd. As protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis continue across the U.S., policing data from that city show one particularly stark change in behavior: a precipitous drop in the number of traffic stops. The department has been making an average of 80% fewer traffic stops each week since May 25, the day of Floyd’s death, according to an analysis by Bloomberg CityLab. The drop at the end of May was far steeper than a dip in traffic enforcement after Minnesota declared a state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a particularly striking data point given observations in some U.S. cities that police appear to be quietly disengaging from some parts of their jobs. In Minneapolis, two other major categories of police stops also dropped after Floyd’s death, though not to the same degree as traffic law enforcement, which typically involve offenses such as moving or equipment violations. Stops for “suspicious vehicles,” which means pursuit of vehicles thought to be involved in a crime, dropped 24%. “Suspicious person” stops, those outside the vehicle context that involve “someone who does not belong, appears out of place, or whose actions are suspect,” were down 39% since May 25. The brunt of a typical police department’s interactions with the public occur not in response to violent issues but during these kinds of routine stops. The Minneapolis police department answered CityLab’s technical questions and assisted in the parsing of this data, but representatives did not respond to requests for comment on why traffic stops and other police stops might have dropped. One explanation for the change in behavior could be the phenomenon of a “pullback”—police reducing their proactive activity in the wake of public criticism of their performance. In Minneapolis, officers are putting in requests to leave the department at higher rates than normal. One lawyer representing officers said he’s processing hundreds of requests from officers who want to leave the department, some citing post-traumatic stress disorder. Though the department budgeted for 888 sworn officers this year, MPD spokesperson John Elder told CityLab in August that there were closer to 830 officers at last count. The slowdown in stops might also be attributed to other factors, such as a potential change in police priorities, and the effects of Covid-19, which led to less activity on the street. Either way, the trend could push Minneapolis farther from what criminal justice advocates say is an over-reliance on police to manage problems that would be better suited for unarmed, non-law enforcement officials. Amid calls to defund, dismantle or reimagine the police, portions of police budget cuts in Philadelphia and New York City came from removing some crossing guard duties from officers; Berkeley, California, council members moved this summer to create a new Department of Transportation that would handle most traffic stops in the police’s stead. Across the U.S., Stanford University’s Open Policing Project estimates that 50,000 drivers and pedestrians are stopped by police on a typical day. These stops are primarily intended to promote traffic safety and prevent injuries, but sometimes they can be part of broader strategies to fight violent crime. Because police can stop vehicles for so many minor offenses, such stops give officers a tremendous amount of discretion, opening the door for dramatic racial disparities. After analyzing 100 million stops, Stanford found that Black drivers were 20% more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. These disparities have long characterized Minneapolis traffic enforcement: The city is 64% white, according to 2019 Census Bureau numbers, and 19% Black or African American. And yet year after year, more Black Minneapolitans are pulled over than white residents.

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