Earlier this month, the Santa Monica Police Reform Commission passed a motion that would change the way that SMPD can perform traffic stops to reduce racial disparities if it were adopted by the full City Council. Due to a technical error in how the motion was presented on the agenda, the Commission will meet again tonight to discuss and likely pass the motion.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the City Council chambers.

If approved tonight and passed by the Council, the motion would put SMPD policies in-line with those done by the LAPD to limit “pretextual stops.” Pretextual traffic stops are stops initiated by law enforcement for a minor traffic violation, with the actual purpose of investigating or searching for evidence of another, unrelated crime. Statistics have shown that pretextual stops both nationally and locally disproportionately target people of color, primarily blacks and latinos. After LAPD implemented this policy in 2022, the number of minor traffic stops “plummeted” by over 40%.

Opponents of the changes argue that while racial profiling of non-whites may be a problem in other cities, that it is not a problem in Santa Monica. Speakers at the last hearing charged that the Commission, which was formed by a vote of the City Council in the wake of national protests against police brutality and racial profiling in 2020, has an anti-SMPD bias.

However, a report prepared for the commission tells a different story (15 page summary, available here.) Based on data provided by police departments to the state, the report gives this breakdown on the demographics of traffic stops in Santa Monica:

The black community makes up 4.3% of Santa Monica’s population. Yet, the comprise (sic)15.4% of the total number of stops by SMPD. They also comprise 21% of stops for equipment violation; the type of stop most commonly associated racial profiling. Latinos make up 20.3% of Santa Monica’s population and 23.3% of SMPD’s stops. Inconsistently, 38% of stops for equipment violations are made against Latinos. 

The proposed policy change doesn’t ban pretextual stops, but provides limits on what SMPD officers can and can’t do during such a stop.

PSROC’s recommendation would require a Santa Monica Police Officer to state the public safety reason for all traffic/pedestrian stops, citations and warnings on body-worn video (BWV)….Officers’ actions during all stops (e.g., questioning, searches, handcuffing, etc.) shall be limited to the original legal basis for the stop, absent articulable reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity that would justify extending the duration or expanding the scope of the detention. Officers shall not extend the duration or expand the scope of the detention without additional reasonable suspicion or probable cause (beyond the original legal basis for the stop).

The commission passed the report 6-3 at its November 7 meeting and is widely expected to pass the report by a similar margin this evening.

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