Evanston police have cut the number of traffic stops they make by 70% since 2019, Sgt. Scott Sophier told a meeting of the city’s Reimaging Public Safety Committee Wednesday afternoon.
That’s happened as staffing of the Police Department’s Traffic Bureau has decreased from eight officers plus a sergeant in 2020 to what Sophier says is just three traffic officers reporting to him now.
The department’s transparency dashboard shows traffic stops have decreased from 14,813 in 2017 to 3,742 last year.
Citations issued initially rose, from 6,188 in 2017 to 10,477 in 2019 according to the department’s annual reports, but have since declined, Sophier says, to 4,500 last year. (Multiple citations can be issued as a result of a single traffic stop.)
Despite that apparent reduction in enforcement efforts, the number of reported traffic crashes and crash-related injuries in the city has also declined — most dramatically during 2020, the peak year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when far fewer drivers were on the road.
Police Chief Schenita Stewart said she’s asked Sophier to review the hundreds of violations listed in the state vehicle code over the next few months to develop a list of ones the department will emphasize for enforcement and ones to deemphasize.
Sophier said hot items for enforcement will include “distracted driving, speed enforcement and other unsafe moving violations that we see often contribute to traffic crashes.”
Among those likely to be deemphasized are most equipment violations — like broken tail lights.
Stewart said those lists will only be recommendations, “because I can’t as chief take away discretion of officers, but I can emphasize what our focus should be as a department.”
Much of the committee’s original interest in traffic stops was focused on trying to reduce the racial disparity among drivers stopped — and the transparency dashboard data shows little change on that front.
The latest Census Bureau estimates indicate Evanston’s population distribution is:
- 58.5% non-Hispanic white.
- 15.8% non-Hispanic Black.
- 9.0% non-Hispanic Asian.
- 11.8% Hispanics of any race.
- 5.0% non-Hispanics who are multiracial or of some other race.
Given that racial distribution, it appears that Black drivers remain substantially more likely to be stopped by police for traffic violations than would be anticipated by their share of the city’s population, while white and Asian drivers are somewhat less likely to be stopped than their share of the population would suggest.
I looked at the EPD website for data hoping to dig deeper, but could not find detail I wanted. What I want to know about is the outcomes of the traffic stops, and how that breaks down by demographic group (race gets much attention, but males are also subject to traffic stops at a much higher rate than females according the EPD site). What proportion of traffic stops lead to arrests, and how many of those charges are felonies?
Certainly the police should use good judgment and prioritize when they should do traffic stops. It seems to me that looking at the outcome of traffic stops can help inform that judgment better than only looking at the race of drivers who are stopped.
Traffic stops may not affect the accident rate but police car presence on the road certainly influences drivers to be calm and more safe. I see fewer police cars on the streets and an increase in aggressive, unsafe driving, running red lights, changing lanes without looking etc.
Aggressive and reckless driving is very prevalent and well documented across the country. Now is not the time to reduce traffic stops. If they are done carefully and strategically and legally, they will deter some of the bad drivers and also detect the unexpected at times.
Couldn’t agree more with A. Berkeley. There’s actually not enough data yet to show the impact of reduced traffic stops. In order for residents to feel safer, there needs to be better systems in place to be able to catch and ticket aggressive driving, speeding and other violations. The fact that there was a clear hit and run on Feb 8 and they haven’t been able to find the license plate or driver is concerning. How much if the reduced traffic stops is due to short staff? How does that impact the community in the long run?
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