As of January, California police officers are required to
provide motorists and pedestrians with the reason for stopping them before
asking any questions, reported the Los Angeles Times. Under Assembly Bill 2773, which was enacted in 2022 and
took effect with the new year, officers are no longer allowed to begin such
encounters by asking drivers the infamous question, “Do you know why I pulled
The first state-level reform of its kind, this law
could represent an important improvement in relations between police and the
public — just not exactly for the reasons advanced by its supporters.
The suggested impetus for the bill was to discourage
so-called pretextual stops and consequently reduce a range of racial
disparities in traffic and pedestrian policing. Pretextual stops are those in
which officers stop a motorist or pedestrian for a minor infraction — say, a
broken taillight or jaywalking — with the actual goal of questioning or
searching the person to uncover evidence of a more significant violation or
crime. While these types of stops have been deemed
constitutional by the Supreme Court, they have a history of being used
to target people based on racial bias.
Although Los Angeles and other jurisdictions have
successfully discouraged the tactic by directly limiting pretextual
stops, California’s new law is not likely to contribute significantly to
that effort. While it does prohibit California police officers from beginning a
pretextual stop by asking a potentially incriminating question, it does nothing
to undo their legal right to conduct such stops.
Even if the legislation falls short of the ambitions of its supporters, however, it does hold promise for furthering community trust in police by promoting what’s known as procedural justice. In simple terms, procedural justice is the perception of fairness in interactions with authority such as traffic stops.
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