San Francisco considers limitations on traffic stops for minor infractions

The San Francisco Police Commission is set to take up the issues around "pretext stops," or minor vehicular infractions that some believe are used to harass people of color.

Some say traffic stops are being used to target Black and Brown people, while many police officers say they're just enforcing the law.

Many who have been pulled over can attest that it can be a nerve-wracking experience.

The San Francisco Police Commission is considering changing when, how, and why police officers pull people over for minor infractions including failing to signal before a turn, expired plates, or a broken tail light.

The coalition to end biased stops held a virtual news conference where some community activists said those pretext stops are used to target communities of color.

"It is a thing of racial profiling of Black people in San Francisco," said Phelicia Jones from Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community. "Black people in San Francisco are six times more than whites likely to be stopped by the police."

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said his department is working closely with the police commission and the Department of Police Accountability to craft the new policy. He said there is room for reform, but he cautioned that any new policy should not stop officers from doing their job.

"We have to have policies that still allow our officers to do the job of protecting the public, and that balance is difficult," said Chief Scott. "So, there's a lot of work to be done on this policy. We do have to address disparities."

San Francisco Police Commissioner Jesus Yanez says too often pretext stops don't make the community safer and amount to racial profiling.

"What we're trying to do is minimize the police footprint on incidents that have nothing to do with public safety and improving our public safety outcomes," said Yanez. "So, I fully support the direction we are taking."

Tracy McCray from the San Francisco Police Officers Association says the new restrictions are unnecessary and that officers are enforcing the laws as they stand now. She said officers are looking at infractions, not skin color.

This city is very diverse, the department is very diverse, and we address behaviors, we're not looking at the color of someone's skin," said McCray.

The first draft of the general order says officers would still be able to send a ticket to the registered owner of a vehicle who commits a minor infraction and that officers could still stop vehicles if the person in that vehicle matches the description of a violent suspect.

The commission could vote on a final version in the fall.