Bills aim to reduce cop-driver tensions during traffic stops

Capital News Service

LANSING – A State Police review of traffic stops in 2017 found that the race of the drivers involved closely corresponded to their proportion in Michigan’s population.

“Releasing data, especially racial demographic data, is a good start in transparency as it can help identify troubling trends of bias,” said Derrell Slaughter, the vice chair of the Lansing Area American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The analysis comes in the wake of concerns that law enforcement officers may be making traffic stops based on the drivers’ race, a practice known as racial profiling.

Slaughter, who chaired the Racial Justice Committee at the Lansing Area ACLU, said the validity of racial profiling claims is hard to judge because everybody has his or her own experience and feelings that should be taken seriously.

Social media has become a tool for people highlighting issues of bias, but it doesn’t indicate that the trend of bias is going up, Slaughter said. “In the Lansing region, law enforcement (agencies) are taking racial bias seriously.”

To break down the barrier between law enforcement officers and citizens, Slaughter said increasing dialogue, free discussion and mutual respect on both sides are the key.

The main reasons police pull drivers over include speeding, driving outside the lines on the road and failing to stop at a stop sign or traffic light, said Kendall Wingrove, the communication chief of the state Office of Highway Safety Planning.

Two recently introduced Senate bills are intended to enhance mutual respect between law enforcement officers and drivers during traffic stops.

Co-sponsor Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, who was a police officer for 30 years, said, “I personally think there is less trust and respect for the police officers nowadays as compared to when I started back in 1977.”

The bills would help drivers know what to expect during traffic stops and alleviate some of the tension between them and law enforcement officers, Nofs said.

One bill would require driver education classes to teach about the “appropriate etiquette”’ for interaction with law enforcement officers in the event of a traffic stop. The other would develop a training program for officers to improve their performance during traffic stops.

“Sometimes younger officers have a more direct manner of asking for information, and this can be received as disrespectful,” said Shawn Kraycs, the Crawford County undersheriff.

“However, in Northern Michigan, most law enforcement interactions are professional and respectful when it comes to the majority of traffic stops,” Kraycs said. “They enforce the law evenly on a daily basis.

“I personally have stopped cars for speeding and the first thing I was told from the driver is ‘you stopped me because I’m black.’ No, I stopped him because he was speeding,” he said.

However, Kraycs said the majority of citizens are respectful and cooperative because they know why they’re being stopped and know what’s expected of them.

Law enforcement officers should treat drivers “with respect and dignity that they deserve based on drivers’ response and how they are treated in return,” said George Basar, the chief of the Howell Police Department.

Basar, a past president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said his department pays attention to educating the African-American community on what to expect and how to respond in traffic stops.

The lead sponsors of the legislation are Sens. Vincent Gregory, D-Lathrup Village, and Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy. Among the co-sponsors are Sens. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage; Goeff Hansen, R-Hart; and Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell.

The bills are awaiting action in the Senate Transportation Committee.