Stop the Stops? Speaker Adams Wants to ‘Overhaul’ NYPD Traffic Enforcement
The NYPD should “move away” from police-initiated traffic stops that disproportionately target people of color and can lead to police brutality, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said on Monday — offering uncharacteristic support for a central pillar of a progressive-wing movement to reform the police department.
Speaking at a hearing with NYPD officials, Adams — who has previously cast aspersions on automated enforcement of city speed limits — cited other cities that are experimenting with cops no longer pulling over drivers and said she wanted New York City to lead, not follow, in overhauling traffic enforcement because it often leads to police violence, as in the killing of Tyre Nichols.
“Many police departments across the country have been overhauling their use of traffic stops, moving away from them because of the severe racial disparities and excessive risks of use-of-force,” said Adams (D-Queens). “The deaths of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Daunte Wright in Minnesota, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Jordan Edwards in Texas, and many others occurred as a result of traffic stops. New York City should be a national leader, not lagging in forward thought and progress attempted by police departments across the country.”
Blacks and Latinos, who are roughly 52 percent of the population, comprise 55 percent of people stopped by cops while driving in New York City — and 90 percent of arrests made during those stops, according to NYPD data.
Adams called those figures “stunning to anyone,” and said they “confirm that Black and Latino individuals are the disproportionate target of traffic stops, arrests, searches, and use of force.”
The speaker’s call to “move away” and “overhaul” NYPD traffic enforcement came as the Council considered a slate of bills to require more NYPD reporting on practices including traffic stops — a proposal she took a step further by asking the NYPD to rethink its role in the practice altogether.
“Are there any discussions about limiting the use of officers to conduct vehicle stops, particularly when precipitated by potential minor violations?” Adams asked police officials during the hearing.
Cities across the country including Philadelphia, Seattle, Berkeley, and Los Angeles are already moving towards overhauling their use of traffic stops.
In New York, traffic enforcement moved to the NYPD from the DOT in 1996 — a decision safe street advocates pushed to reverse in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The push to yank traffic from NYPD picked up the endorsement of at least one community board, then-Council Member (and now-city Comptroller) Brad Lander, and Attorney General Letitia James, who recommended in September 2020 that NYPD cease traffic stops altogether.
?: Allan Feliz was my constituent. He was a son, a father, a brother. He was murdered by the NYPD during a traffic stop in the Bronx in 2019. pic.twitter.com/b5cdnKVrnq
— Carmen De La Rosa (@CnDelarosa) March 27, 2023
Adams’s talk of reducing police involvement in traffic enforcement is counter to her previous remarks on the subject of automated enforcement, which supplements declining police ticket-writing. During an interview on WNYC last year, she questioned the value of school zone speed cameras that “are not actually near schools.”
Speed cameras, however, have shown to change driver behavior and reduce instances of speeding where they are installed — unlike traffic stops, which researchers in 2021 found have no correlation to lower crash rates.
The NYPD’s Director of Legislative Affairs Michael Clarke declined to fully address Adams’s suggestion of a traffic stop “overhaul” and, instead, defended the status quo.
“We always want to make sure vehicle stops are being done safely,” Clarke told Adams. “The NYPD officer is an important part of traffic safety, working with our partners at DOT to make sure that we’re trying to curb reckless driving and make sure that that part of the city is safe while doing it in the safest manner.”