Do not remove police from traffic enforcement

I have pointed out previously that Daunte Wright was not arrested because of a traffic stop. He was arrested because he had an outstanding warrant for armed robbery, where he allegedly shoved his hand into a woman’s bra to grab the cash she was holding there. (That is sexual assault, by the way.)

But we are now seeing efforts to remove police from traffic enforcement all together. This is a perfect example of the phrase “hard cases make bad law.” Using the Wright case to push this agenda is flawed because the facts of the case simply do not match the narrative. Because there was a warrant for Wright’s arrest, police would (hopefully) have caught up to him eventually anyway. He would have tried to flee then, and police would have needed to apprehend him. He may well have violently resisted arrest. The traffic stop was not the reason for the arrest. The warrant for armed robbery was the reason for the arrest.

Had Wright not been wanted for armed robbery, the police would likely have issued him a citation and he would have been allowed to peacefully go his way. But by running a routine check, the police discovered they had someone wanted for a violent crime. Apprehending him was good for public safety. A traffic camera and automatically mailed citation may well have encouraged him to pay his vehicle taxes, but it would not have accomplished a more important policy goal of apprehending and prosecuting a violent criminal. Traffic cameras and bureaucrats cannot arrest people wanted for armed robbery. Only police can do that.

Are traffic citations abused in many jurisdictions? Yes. But the solution to that problem is to reform the over-use of citations, especially when they are exploited as a revenue stream by government. But that is a separate issue. Having police conduct traffic stops does make people drive more safely by serving as a deterrent against poor driving. Making the police visible in a community also makes the community safer by serving as a deterrent against other types of crime.

It is obvious that the shooting of Wright should not have happened. There is simply no excuse for mistaking a Taser for a gun. This is egregious incompetence, and it is good that the officer is facing criminal charges. Hopefully, there will also be a large financial settlement from the city to the Wright family. But we should not throw out good policy that makes the public safer because the Wright case ended badly. Do not allow a knee-jerk emotional reaction be the catalyst for bad policy.