Oakland & Berkeley Agree: Get Armed Police out of Traffic Enforcement

On May 3, Oakland City Council agreed to removing police from traffic enforcement and putting the department of transportation in charge of designing and operating safe streets. Oakland joins Berkeley as the second city in the United States to make this move: putting departments of transportation and unarmed staff in charge of traffic enforcement, not armed police departments. This is a huge step forward in local advocacy efforts to reimagine traffic enforcement and public safety. Bike East Bay Advocacy Director Dave Campbell has been serving on an advisory board of Oakland’s Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce specifically around how to disarm traffic enforcement and move forward safer streets. Last week Council approved Recommendation #59: Move Most Traffic Enforcement to OakDOT, and directed staff to start making it a reality. 

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Bike East Bay joined an advisory board of the Task Force last September and has been working with the Anti Police-Terror Project and Defund the Police Coalition to change how streets are managed. Many voices called for getting police out of traffic. The recommendation passed by Oakland City Council (recommendation #59) does that by prioritizing safety through street redesign and operation, rather than through punitive traffic enforcement and increased surveillance. It also specifically eliminates pretextual traffic stops. Pretextual traffic stops are when someone is stopped for a minor violation, but that stop is then used as an excuse to search the person or vehicle based on an officer’s suspicion of unrelated criminal activity. Pretextual traffic stops account for two-thirds of all traffic stops in Oakland, disproportionately targeting Black and Brown drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

For a deep-dive on this recommendation, watch this Town Hall with Advocacy Director Dave Campbell.

The traffic enforcement recommendation was part of 12 Task Force Recommendations Council specifically prioritized for immediate action, in a motion from Councilmember Carrol Fife and Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas. Also prioritized is funding for services related to gender-based violence, mental health services, restorative justice, demilitarizing police, and more housing solutions. Council also approved the Task Force’s full report and priority recommendations.

Even the Mayor’s proposed 2021-2023 budget adopts a part of our recommendation—moving vehicle enforcement responsibilities to OakDOT, which includes abandoned auto, scofflaw, commercial vehicle, and taxi related enforcement activities. Starting in the second year of the two-year budget, when OakDOT repaves your street, they will handle themselves any auto towing needs and not need to call OPD. The Mayor’s budget also cuts traffic patrols by 50%.

While a new state law is required to completely overhaul traffic enforcement, there is much the City can start on this year, particularly if Council follows up during the budget process by redirecting some of OPD’s $20+ million/year traffic budget to OakDOT’s expanding safe streets initiative.

There is also a lot of work happening statewide on AB 550, a bill advancing in Sacramento to allow automated speed cameras in Oakland and four other pilot cities. OakDOT sees automated speed enforcement as essential to removing police from traffic enforcement. While we support the goal of less speeding and fewer police patrolling traffic, which these camera systems help achieve, Bike East Bay does not currently support this bill due concerns with over ticketing and surveillance of Black and Brown residents, and because of the bill’s current noticeable lack of support from Black and Brown led organizations in Oakland and statewide. We will stay engaged in these conversations and will report in more detail our additional recommendations for implementing Recommendation #59.

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