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Denver police will not pull over drivers for low-level traffic violations in policy shift

Denver says police aren't planning on conducting low level traffic stops
Denver says police aren't planning on conducting low level traffic stops 03:01

There's a new approach to how the city of Denver will handle low-level traffic violations.

Cities like Los Angeles and Philadelphia have told their police officers to stop pulling drivers over for low-level traffic infractions. A similar approach is now taking place in Denver, this time under a new police policy. The stops will not happen in the Mile High City regularly now, unless there's a real threat to safety.

Denver's policy was approved on May 1 and it comes after the city council suggested the idea to Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas a year ago. It is based on a study by the Vera Institute of Justice that suggests law enforcement departments whose officers are stopping fewer drivers in other cities are seeing an increase in public safety.

After doing his own research, Thomas felt this was the right time to move forward with this new policy.

"I think we need to be more useful with our time and so, we did some study to identify the fact that one, low-level traffic stops have no impact on safety, no impact on crime reduction, but they do take time, and if they don't have any connection to traffic safety, I think we need to be careful of how we spend our time," said Thomas.

According to Thomas, calls for service continue to increase. For this reason, they look to invest energy and necessary resources on more serious crimes and respond to calls for service more efficiently.

"For us a low-level traffic stop is a traffic infraction that has absolutely no safety nexus, things like speeding, disobedience to traffic signal, careless driving, those kinds of things are certain safety violations," said Thomas.

Safety violations will still be a priority for the police department, which includes driving through a red light or stop signs.

"But you know, having a headlight out or a taillight out or something like that is very low-level and doesn't have anything to do with driver safety," said Chief Thomas.

This includes things like expired tags.

Under this new current policy, officers must have a justified reason for pulling a driver over. Those reasons can include but are not limited to having a reason to suspect a more serious crime is happening, like reckless driving, drugs or burglary before initiating a stop.

"This is just us making better use of our time and focusing on the things that are really important to gather certain violations and making sure that we can get through those calls faster and I think maybe even more importantly than that, is move towards earning and regaining that public trust," said Thomas.

Other cities and states have adopted a similar model. In Los Angeles minor police encounters declined after limiting stops for minor infractions in 2022.

"A lot of our traffic stops that we would make don't result in an arrest or citation and so clearly we're not getting what is expected out of them."

Some Denver residents support this new policy.

"A lot of times people with minor flaws on their vehicles are people who depend on these vehicles and to have their lives disrupted by something minor can turn into something much worse," said Dave Clark.

This is another reason police believe their new approach will be more effective and welcomed in the city.

"We also understand that some of the challenges that community members have in order to pay their bills and earn a living and so we certainly don't want to impact that either," said Thomas.

Denver resident, Chad Brokaw shared concerns about safety traffic violations. He would like to see more enforcement from police for his own safety. However, when it comes to minor infractions, he supports it.

"As far as the headlights and tags, if there is more leniency for that then that makes sense to me," said Brokaw.

Despite the new policy, Thomas emphasizes the importance of still ensuring one is safe when behind the wheel.

"I would just ask folks to understand the law and be safe drivers," said Thomas. "Know that when we're stopping people, we're stopping people because we believe that there is either an access to some sort of safety issue, or we believe that there's some nexus to crime."

Thomas adds as a unit they are well staffed and are just wanting to take this approach to focus on more serious crimes in the city.

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