In a significant shift in law enforcement protocol, California police officers will soon be mandated to inform drivers of the reason for their stop before proceeding with any inquiries. This change, codified in the new bill A.B. 2773, becomes effective from January 1, 2024, and is poised to transform traffic stops across the state.

During a recent meeting on December 19, Los Angeles Police Commission members briefed commanders about the implications of this new law for traffic stops. LAPD Captain Steven Ramos elucidated, “This is instead of the officer asking a driver, ‘Do you know why I pulled you over?'” He emphasized that officers will now be responsible for clarifying why a driver is pulled over.

Authored by Assemblyman Chris Holden of Pasadena and enacted in 2022, this legislation obligates officers to provide drivers with fundamental information about the

 grounds for their detention. This adjustment in police procedure is meant to reduce pretextual stops. These are stops ostensibly for minor traffic violations but with an underlying intent to search for contraband like drugs or firearms.

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Highlighting the significance of this change, Oakland Privacy, a civil rights group from the Bay Area, noted that the bill would mainly target stops based on minor, often discretionary infractions, such as overly tinted windows or broken tail lights. These types of stops have been a longstanding tactic for disrupting suspected drug trafficking activities within communities.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the legality of pretextual stops, but their usage has come under increasing scrutiny. Civil rights advocates have pointed out stark racial disparities in who is pulled over. In a meeting on Tuesday, LAPD officials noted that an internal review in 2020 revealed these stops were not only ineffective but disproportionately targeted people of color. The Office of Inspector General’s report underscored this, showing that Black and Latino drivers were stopped more frequently for minor violations and subjected to more thorough searches compared to White drivers.

Inspector General Mark Smith’s report revealed a surprising fact: officers found more contraband during stops based on reasonable suspicion than pretextual stops. This led to a policy shift within the LAPD, even before A.B. 2773’s enactment. Since 2022, LAPD officers have been encouraged to explain the reason for stops while recording these interactions on body-worn cameras.

Lizabeth Rhodes, who heads the LAPD’s Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy, clarified that what was previously a strong recommendation will now become a legal obligation. She explained, “Our pretext stop policy talked about ‘shoulds.’ (A.B. 2773) is the Legislature acting. Now, this is a ‘shall.'”

This law represents a significant move towards transparency and accountability in policing. It aligns with a broader trend of reforming law enforcement practices to build trust within communities, especially those disproportionately affected by such stops. By legally requiring officers to state the reason for a traffic stop upfront, the bill aims to eliminate ambiguity and potential misuse of authority, fostering a more equitable policing approach.

As California prepares for this change, law enforcement agencies must adjust their training and operational protocols. This shift isn’t just procedural; it’s a step towards reshaping the dynamics of everyday interactions between police and the public. It’s a move that could set a precedent, potentially influencing policing practices nationwide.