Seattle inspector general suggests ending traffic stops for ‘non-dangerous violations’

SEATTLE — A letter from the Seattle inspector general’s office suggests that police officers should end routine traffic stops for minor and nondangerous violations to prevent traffic stops from going wrong.

The letter, dated May 18 and addressed to Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz from Inspector General Lisa Judge, said traffic stops for low-level, nondangerous and civil violations — such as those for expired tabs — put both the public and police in unnecessary danger.

Judge cited five incidents in which officers or people of color were fatally shot during traffic stops. Four of the incidents occurred in other states. One incident — in which a Samoan man was fatally shot after a traffic stop — happened in Seattle.

“For safety of both officers and the public and for racial fairness, SPD should seek to eliminate routine traffic stops for civil and non-dangerous violations,” the letter said.

The suggestion would not apply to police pulling someone over for a safety violation like drunken driving.

SPD officials said Diaz was out of town and could not respond.

Judge told KIRO 7 she had been in contact with Diaz about the issue prior to sending the letter.

“I cautiously interpret this letter as support for community,” said Sakara Remmu, lead strategist for the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance.

Remmu urged concrete action by SPD to stop unnecessary encounters.

“We’re looking for removing officers from interacting with community when it is not necessary,” Remmu said.

A bill in the state legislature would ban officers from stopping drivers for things like expired tabs, broken taillights or something hanging from a rearview mirror.

Some experts suggest using technology like traffic cameras to enforce small civil infractions.

A California study showed these minor traffic stops rarely lead to arrests.

The Seattle Police Officers Guild sent a statement blasting the Inspector General’s suggestion, calling it “reckless, bizarre and nonsensical” and said it could increase crime.

SPOG’s statement said the idea “reeks of activist virtue signaling and perpetuates the false narrative that Seattle Police officers serve our community through a lens of bias.”