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Berkeley’s actions make traffic stops more dangerous
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

The “defund the police” movement has entered the twilight zone of political correctness.

In order to satisfy the feeding frenzy of the cause du jour the Berkeley City Council recently voted to move traffic stops from the purview of the city’s police department to a unit of unarmed civilians.

It is their answer to curtail racial profiling.

Racial profiling is obviously an issue as are dangerous criminals of all skin tones who are dumb enough to call attention to themselves’ by speeding, running red lights or stop signs or engaging in other moving violations that threaten the safety of other motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Police following probable cause rules in making traffic stops frequently snare those who have committed serious crimes and have a nasty tendency to be armed.  It is not a safe job.

There have been nine officers killed so far this year across the United States during traffic stops.

It stands to reason that number would be significantly higher if those prone to violence and crime knew those enforcing moving traffic violations — and also call up warrants to alert real officers they may have just pulled out a man wanted in connection with violent rapes and murders — were not able to defend themselves.

The assumption is violent felons, those with rage issues, or someone who is aggressive with mental issues that happen to have a weapon at their disposal will pull over for unarmed “civilian traffic enforcers.” And when they do, they won’t resort to violent behavior when the glorified meter maid runs their registration and discovers they have a warrant for their arrest or are a suspect in a violent crime.

Officers are trained for months on how to conduct a safe traffic stop given any time a vehicle is pulled over it can evolve into countless situations that can rapidly spin out of control from a simply belligerent or enraged driver, a motorist strung out on PCP or an armed criminal that may have earlier robbed a 7-Eleven at gunpoint or is wanted for some other violent crime.

The fact there are rigid legal standards that must be met before an officer can pull over a vehicle and detain an individual for questioning or issuing a ticket and how they conduct the stop is why the courts and the state of California require officers to complete extensive Post Officers Standards Training courses.

There is a huge difference between meter maids who handle static violations and officers that deal with moving violations.

Then there are questions regarding the rules of engagement.

Would Berkeley’s glorified meter maids be allowed to pursue speeders and red light runners who don’t yield to siren and flashing red lights?

If there is no consequence for a violators’ action and they can simply ignore red light and sirens after being caught speeding because glorified meter maids aren’t trained or allowed to engage a chase that now requires a high-profile stop because the driver refuses to yield how will this impact motorists overall that are complying to the rules of the road?

Taking steps to stop racial profiling is one thing. Reducing the chances of violent criminals being taken off the streets safely during a traffic stop for probable cause is another issue.

Much has been written about how the concept of even having a police force is an act of repression. That flies in the face of what unfolded in Seattle — the promised land of anarchy — within the six-block Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). Organizers strove to create a neighborhood without police. By the time the 22-day modern stateside updated version of the Lord of the Flies ended, two people were shot to death, one critically injured, and local business owners who had retained people stealing from them were overpowered by a mob that freed the perpetrators and threatened them.

The comparison is not an overreach.

The deterioration of law and order that the Seattle protestors contended would not happen once the police were banned from the zone underscores an inconvenient truth about the character of many of us that are part of the human race. Without rules that are enforced we have a nasty tendency to disregard the rights of others that we justify under the umbrella of situation ethics.

The backers of the latest product of the Defund the Police movement in Berkeley believe the mere presence of police and their use in what they see as run-of-the-mill traffic stops is what sparks violence, disorder, and chaos.

Violent people even with a police presence will tend to try and do what they want to do with little or no regards to the rights, safety or lives of others.

Many of the rest of us will justify breaking of the rules put in place so 330 million Americans can co-exist.

It is why things such as speeding and running red lights increase when we realize police presence is minimal at best.

But, you might argue, all Berkeley is doing is creating an unarmed civilian traffic enforcement unit. It is akin to putting a 6-foot-5, 120-pound bouncer at the entrance to a nightclub. Not only will the “bad boys” show little respect but the rest of the crowd is likely to follow suit to various degrees.

In order for a civilian traffic enforcement unit to be effective people must believe they can force them to pull over given there would be consequences for not doing so. That would mean they would need to be trained in how to conduct safe pursuits. Unless, of course, the directive goes out that only those who voluntarily pull over after a civilian traffic enforcer signals for them to do so via red lights and/or siren can be ticketed.

But if you do that the traffic enforcers are one step away from being full-fledged police officers. And their ability to call for police assistance to assure their own protection as well as that of the general public may actually lead to more physical confrontations. It is reasonable to expect that unarmed traffic enforcers are likely to embolden not just violent criminals but others as well to disregard orders to pullover given the lack of initial consequences.

Then there is the question of reduced resources. Unless a city starts printing money, every unarmed civilian traffic officer that replaces an armed officer under the framework of defunding the police will essentially take one officer of the streets.

While the assumption is that would lead to less racial profiling because there is less police it also sounds like a real solid move for criminals who would thrive with less police.

There is no question the current system isn’t flawless. But to essentially take steps to gut it as opposed to further fine tune it is likely to allow Berkeley to serve as the national guinea pig in a grand “Defund the Police” movement that will help replicate the same level of respect for the concept of law and order demonstrated in the Seattle zone.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.