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WAY too much of this BS

As is becoming all too familiar these days, a man was shot in the back and killed after being pulled over for a traffic stop. That this happens at all is disgusting; that it happens much more often to minorities is hideous. 

If you go on YouTube or TikTok these days, you can find hundred at least—and probably thousands—of videos of cops bullying people and abusing their authority at traffic stops. The reason they give for a lot of their objectively fascist behavior is they don’t feel “safe” unless their subject “complies” with every request/demand. But how unsafe are they at traffic stops? Because I like to Check the math, I decided to dig into it a bit. 

I’ll say right up front I always suspected this was BS. A heavily-armed cop—taser, pepper spray, gun, baton, more weapons in the cruiser—approaching a civilian from behind is in danger? Seemed unlikely. And yup, studies bear that out. 

According to a 2019 study by Jordan Blair Woods, a law professor at the University of Arkansas, published in the Michigan Law Review, police officers only have a deadly encounter once per 6.5 million traffic stops. Frankly, that’s a lot safer than being, say, a lumberjack or construction worker. But I digress. 

With the news of Tyre Nicholas filling the papers these days, the question that came to my mind was: How deadly are traffic stops for civilians? How does it compare to that of cops? Again, I dug into the annual fatalities figures and found that civilians have a chance of a deadly encounter at a rate of once per 206,186 stops. 

That’s right; it is 32 & 1/3 times more deadly for the civilian than a cop in a traffic stop. 

This puts paid to the cops’ excuse that they are protecting their own safety. The truth is, cops are actually putting the public they are under oath “to serve and protect” in more danger than yhe cops are. A lot more danger. Nearly 33 times more danger. And of course, it’s far worse if you’re a minority. 

(So you cops can just STFU about how dangerous your jobs are. YOU are more dangerous to the public than we are to you.)

This is the kind of thing behind the call among progressives to “defund the police”. In their usual disingenuous way, the right has conflated this with “eliminate the police”, similar to how they regard calls for increasing legal immigration and not being total assholes to asylum seekers “open borders”. And for my part, I would agree with those who note that “defund the police” is not a very good message from a sheer public relations standpoint. Be that as it may, if you starve police departments of funds, it’s much harder for them to be out killing people, isn’t it?

So what to do? I view as inherently bogus the “a few bad apples” argument. Think about the kind of people you know who go into law enforcement. Are they the best educated, calmest, most considerate people you know? Or is more like my experience, where the high school bullies and folks with Confederate flag bumper stickers on their trucks and an appalling ignorance of history and the law make up the majority? Is this going to make a better police force? And yet, pushing for more and more and still more cops will (to continue the metaphor) scrape the bottom of the recruiting barrel. Not good.

I am an entitled straight white cis male, so in my encounters with police I have that in my court. Even so, they have been highly stressful, and the cops have regularly lied. They lied about my speed; they lied about the speed limits; they lied about whether or not they knew the ticketed amount; and on and on. They lie and bully and try to force you to “comply”, and if you don’t, come up with reasons to make the encounter worse for you. It’s a bad, bad system.

I would recommend two major changes:

First, yes, cut their funding. I would do it more surgically, by making sure they aren’t getting enough dough to militarize their departments. I do not want cops to have rocket launchers, tanks, battering rams, high-tech surveillance equipment, and other tech that really belongs with a professional military force, not with cops.

Second, I would stop this “patrolling” nonsense. “Patrolling” is just a way for cops to issue tickets, which is just a way to fund governments. This is insanity. I recommend police stay in their damn precinct houses unless called, like firefighters. Come when we call, and stop hassling tens of millions of people on the roads every year just to generate revenue.

Will this cause an increase in traffic accidents, speeding, driving while intoxicated, etc? Possibly. But I would recommend for those issues that, again, they wait until called. “I saw a man weaving all over the road; can you investigate?” Yes, I’m sure we’ll need a period of adjustment to determine what a good level of “active” policing should be. But right now there are approximately 50,000 traffic stops per day. I posit the majority of those are just cops filling their ticket quota.

(And before any police tell me “we don’t have quotas!” let me just say: Baloney. There may be no “official” quotas, nothing published, and no target numbers stated, but don’t expect me to believe for even a microsecond that your sergeants and lieutenants don’t make it absolutely clear when you’re slacking off on the ticket writing. We all know you have targets.)

I would also suggest the money currently used for equipment go to having more mental health people on staff, de-escalation experts, and so on. Stop trying to use cops to do jobs that healthcare workers should do.

In my opinion the way to de-escalate all this violence is to take police out of the equation as much as possible and use them only at need. Traffic stops turn deadly for a disproportionate number of marginalized people? Fewer traffic stops, dammit!

That’s what I think, anyway.