California lawmakers advance bill placing limits on traffic stops for minor violations

·2 min read

A bill that places limits on when California police officers can conduct traffic stops cleared the Senate Public Safety Committee Tuesday, but influential law enforcement groups lined up against the proposal.

SB 50 would prevent officers from pulling over people in vehicles and on bicycles for low-level offenses, unless a separate reason for a stop exists. Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, who introduced the bill, said it “will help protect Californians of color from unnecessary harms.”

In January, a state board reported that Californians identified by officers as Black were 2.2 times more likely to be searched and have force used against them than people identified as white. The findings were based on a review of more than 3 million traffic and pedestrian stops in 2021.

While speaking in favor of the bill, Bradford, who is Black, recounted a traffic stop that he said would have been prevented under the proposal. He said he was pulled over in Southern California at night a few years ago because a headlight on his vehicle was out.

Bradford said he was ordered to take a field sobriety test, despite no evidence he was driving erratically. The senator, who said he passed the test, called it a “prime example” of how officers use traffic stops for minor offenses to investigate for more serious crimes.

The low-level offenses identified in the bill include those related to vehicle registration, window tinting, a single non-working headlight, or a bike’s equipment. It allows police to send a citation or warning letter in lieu of a stop and permits government officials, who aren’t officers, to enforce traffic laws.

Later in the hearing, Bradford said the bill would free up officers from enforcing violations “that put no one in immediate danger.”

That argument hasn’t persuaded major police and prosecutor organizations.

“Simply put, we object to the policy of keeping law enforcement from enforcing the law,” Cory Salzillo, a legislative director for the California State Sheriffs’ Association, said during a comment period.

The California District Attorneys Association, in a written response to the proposal, said it would deprive officers of a very effective investigative tool, according to a legislative analysis.

Bradford introduced a similar bill last year that also passed the Public Safety Committee. But the measure died without being voted on by the entire Senate.

SB 50 now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee.