Traffic Stop Terror
Illustrations By:Tiffany Baker
Warning: The following content includes descriptions of physical violence.
This is the story of a 21-year-old college student driving to his mother’s house. He has his whole life ahead of him.
Late one afternoon the man drives down a busy parkway en route to visit his mother. His vehicle’s rear license is not attached to the trunk, but displayed in the back window instead.
He switches lanes without signaling, attracting the attention of a police officer. The man continues to drive down the road until his car stalls out.
The median salary of two police officers who were hired to handle the deluge of daily calls––some calls actually needing police intervention but many, many more calls that do not. Source
As the officer approaches his car, the man recognizes him.
Eight months earlier, the man had an encounter with this same officer. The man reaches for his cellphone in an attempt to record the officer’s actions. Suddenly, the officer shouts at him.
“You’re not going to get video of this. You’re not going to make any phone calls. Nobody is going to know about this.”
The man tries to tell the officer he doesn’t have any type of weapon and isn’t trying to hurt the officer. The officer only becomes more angry.
The man abandons reaching for his cell phone and begins to slowly step out of his car with his hands up. That’s when it happens…the officer violently elbows the man in the face.
Then the officer tasers the man in the back.
The average cost to equip two police officers. Source
The man falls to the ground. He is not resisting. The officer tasers him a second time. Then the officer handcuffs the man.
“I’m complying. I’m not resisting, “ the man shouts as he lies prone in the street.
A second officer arrives on the scene. The man thinks maybe the second officer will help him. Unfortunately, the man is wrong.
The second officer runs toward the man–who is handcuffed and laying in the street–with his gun drawn.
The officer stomps on the man’s face, then proceeds to put his knee on the back of the man’s head and point his gun at the man’s right temple.
“If you move, I’m going to shoot you and splatter your brains all over the street,” the second officer shouts.
Terrified, the man doesn’t move.
Both officers lift the man, now bruised and bloodied in the face, and place him on the trunk of his car. Later, when the man’s mug shot is taken, his bloody nose and lips are clearly visible in the photo.
The man suffered multiple injuries during the traffic stop, including a ruptured lip and deep cut on his nose, which took two months to heal, as well as back spasms from being tased.
After the traffic stop, both officers filed reports that directly contradicted what had actually happened.
Bystander cell phone videos of the man’s encounter with the police were released on social media and immediately went viral. The officers were fired a little over 24 hours after the incident, and the police department dismissed 89 cases involving the two officers.
The officers were charged with aggravated assault and battery, and violation of oath of office.
The officer who elbowed the man in the face pleaded no contest to aggravated assault and battery and was sentenced to six months in a work-release program, then five months home confinement, followed by nine years and one month on probation.
The officer who stomped the man’s face was convicted of aggravated assault and battery and violation of oath of office and sentenced to 11 months home confinement, followed by nine years and one month on probation.
Years after the incident with the officers, the man still suffers from PTSD. He finds it difficult to maintain relationships and steady employment. The man filed a civil suit against the officers, the former police chief, and the county, alleging a pattern of ignoring 67 previous use of force incidents involving the officers. Five years after filing the lawsuit, the man reaches a settlement with the county for $400K.
Cost to the city police department after a civil suit found the officers at fault.
He could be happy and healthy today if reconsidered how we invest our money.
Total Cost of Police
A plan to reallocate.
These are nonviolent alternatives to policing that could have been used in this scenario. Together, these alternatives are still less than the cost of this story’s police intervention.
Automated traffic enforcement$335K
Cost for 5 intersections
Traffic cameras, speed detectors, and automated software to deliver fines to drivers for speeding, running red lights, and committing other moving violations have been shown to improve safety, save money, and decrease racial disparity by removing police discretion from enforcement. In just one example in Scottsdale, Arizona, injury related crashes significantly decreased. Fewer emergency resources were deployed and the city saved over $16 million annually. (Source) When most people learn about how traffic cameras can reduce racial profiling, they become supportive of them (Source). However, racial bias can also infect automated systems, like in Chicago where traffic cameras ticket Black and Latino drivers the most (Source) so implementation of an automated enforcement system must be monitored for bias as well.
Repair Voucher Program$40K
754 repairs at an average cost of $53
Programs to help people repair broken brake lights, turn signals, headlamps, wipers, and more helps prevent police from pulling drivers over for secondary infractions. These issues can stem from deep economic issues. A direct investment to fix the problem without punishing drivers solves the issue while keeping roads safer. Some programs like Minnesota’s Lights On! partner directly with police to deliver vouchers, but programs can be designed with no police involvement at all (Source)
Civilian Traffic Response Unit$130K
Two unarmed monitors
Most cities already have departments of transportation whose main goal is traffic safety. Much like parking enforcement, they can build and deploy unarmed teams to respond to minor traffic violations and collisions. Removing armed officers from these situations make them safer for motorists and allow police to focus on other work. While there are few American cities that do this - Berkeley, California started the process of creating a team within their DOT in 2020 - this is more common internationally, including in England, where HIghways England, not the local police, stop drivers for safety reasons. (Source)
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