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Study Urges Less Law Enforcement Intervention in L.A. Traffic Issues

Most traffic enforcement in Los Angeles should be done by civilian workers, not police, but only in tandem with major infrastructure upgrades that improve safety along city streets that are among the nation’s deadliest. So concluded of a long-delayed report from the city transportation department that has yet to be released. The Los Angeles Times reviewed a draft of the document, which has been in the works for nearly three years since the City Council raised the prospect of removing traffic duties from the Los Angeles Police Department. The debate over what role police should have in enforcing traffic safety comes amid an alarming yearlong rise in road deaths and injuries. It illustrates both the promise and the challenge of removing armed officers from traffic safety duties. Some transportation safety advocates say persistent traffic violence, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, shows that the city must crack down harder on reckless driving. Supporters of criminal justice reform argue for a less punitive approach. They say those communities have historically borne the brunt of over-aggressive policing, which they contend hasn’t made the streets any safer. Tey allege that, even when such encounters don’t end in violence, the fines that often result can send people into spiraling debt.


Among the recommendations in the city report is investing in so-called “self-enforcing infrastructure,” such as narrower streets, dedicated bike lanes, and more clearly marked pedestrian crosswalks. Such measures naturally slow the flow of traffic and discourage drivers from speeding or breaking other road laws. Experts say speed is a major factor in many serious crashes, and so reducing it can lead to fewer traffic deaths. Jessica Hutton, an engineer with the Kansas City firm Burns & McDonnell, said most drivers decide how fast to drive based on unconscious cues from a road’s design and surroundings. Thus, some cities can employ “a little bit of psychology” by designing “self-enforcing” roads that regulate speeds through changes, for example, to the width of a roadway or shoulder or the creation of more intersections. The draft report calls for further expanding Los Angeles police restrictions on so-called pretextual stops — using minor traffic violations as a reason to pull over vehicles and search them for evidence of more serious crimes. Department officials have admitted these stops netted few arrests and undermined public trust. Still, police officials around the U.S. have been slow to rein in the practice much, saying that it is still a tool for getting guns and drugs off the streets. L.A. police officials have said enforcement remains a top priority, citing the inherent dangers of traffic stops and a recent rise in accidents.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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