America Needs an Honest Conversation About Traffic Safety and Law Enforcement. Santa Monica Isn’t Having It.

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Earlier this year, the Santa Monica Lookout was reported that traffic violence in the City of Santa Monica has continued to rise as there is more activity on the roads as the world continues to reawaken from the COVID-19 shutdowns. The article was based on data from 2022 (the full 2023 data hasn’t been released yet) the number of injury crashes involving pedestrians had risen to 95 from a low of 54 in 2020.

The article quotes Lt. Erika Aklufi, SMPD spokesperson, who gives several reasons for the jump in crashes and the severity of those crashes including: the size of vehicles that were purchased when gas prices cratered, mass retirement of SMPD officers and “a push-back against armed officers making traffic stops.”

According to Aklufi as quoted in the article, traffic stops provide an opportunity to educate dangerous drivers. While this may be true, there has not been any discussion of ending armed traffic stops in Santa Monica. Instead, the discussion has been about ending pretextual traffic stops. 

Currently, there is only a recommendation from the Police Reform Commission that the city make some modest reforms to its pretextual stops policy. Those reforms would not end pretextual stops, just require the police to tell people why they were being stopped when the police pull them over. For more on the status of this recommendation and background on pretextual stops, read this article from Santa Monica Next.

But you wouldn’t know that by reading the Lookout, which makes no mention of the actual state of local laws and instead transitions to a non-sequitur about pedestrians being allowed to cross the street in a crosswalk against a flashing red hand if there is no immediate danger.

So in other words, Lt. Aklufi was able to get away with blaming a policy that doesn’t exist, that nobody in the city is pushing for, and to top it off … .actual data shows that the concern about unarmed officers being in danger should they enforce traffic laws is overstated. The University of Michigan Law Review released a study that showed that,” police officers are unlawfully killed during a traffic stop at a rate of 1 in 3.6 million stops.”

By contrast, the number of people being killed in traffic stops continues to rise. 89 people were shot by the police in traffic stops in 2022 in America. The number grew to 108 people killed after a traffic stop by the police in 2023 according to the Police Violence Report.

But this isn’t to say that the American approach to ending traffic violence is working. It isn’t. Based on those same 2022 statistics used in the Lookout, America is the only G7 Country (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union) to see regular increases in traffic fatalities.

So it’s clear that America needs to change how it addresses its rising tide of traffic violence. But to arrive at solutions to the traffic safety crisis, we need to have an honest conversation. The Lookout article missed a chance to have that conversation on its pages. Hopefully, the discussions happening at SMPD are more productive than what was reported.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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