MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Ramsey County Attorney John Choi has announced a new policy that he says is aimed at fundamentally changing the use of non-public safety traffic stops by police.
In a press conference early Wednesday afternoon, Choi detailed the new policy that ends felony prosecutions resulting from non-public safety traffic stops. He says these stops typically occur when a motorist has an equipment violation, with the intent to seek evidence for a more serious crime.
St. Paul police announced they will no longer conduct traffic stops for offenses including vehicle registrations, loud mufflers, items on windshields and non-working lights.
"These types of stops disproportionately affect black and brown communities and undermine the trust in the work police do every day to serve and protect the public," Choi's office said in a release. "The new policy was developed in collaboration with local law enforcement, philanthropic leaders, county residents and national partners such as the Vera Institute of Justice."
Choi also said the county attorney's office will "no longer favor officers asking people for consent to search their vehicle."
"That practice, in my view, is coercive and it actually leads and breeds more distrust in our community," Choi said. "If there is no reason to ask for consent and you present a case to us that's based solely on that ... we will also not prosecute that case."
Several leaders joined Choi during the press conference, including St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and St. Paul Police Deputy Chief Julie Maidment.
"We need a new approach, we need a new way because we are surrounded every day by reminders that our traditional approaches have not brought about the outcomes that we desire in our community," Carter said. "In St. Paul African American drivers are four times more likely to be pulled over ... We know that must change."
"We want to achieve better public safety outcomes," Maidment said. "We want to ensure our practices are in line with community values and expectations."
At the press conference, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation President Eric Jolly announced a Ramsey County public safety fund to support the new policy. Jolly said the fund will support research and infrastructure and help low income motorists pay for vehicle repairs.
"Our residents' trust has been undermined for far too long by practices of pulling over drivers for non-public safety reasons," he said.
Tyrone Terrill of the African American Leadership Council threw his support behind the new policy as well.
"This is a day that's long overdue for us," he said. "Philando Castile, Daunte Wright, George Floyd and on and on and on across America, we felt the pain of these stops."
"Our community is the most victimized community from the crime level, from the murder level, so if we can support this policy and I say to other communities be quiet give it a chance to work first," Terrill addded.
Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter echoed Terrill's sentiments.
"It is long past time that minor infractions such as these be dealt with through means other than a stressful encounter on the side of the road," Carter said. "Non-public safety stops have caused unnecessary trauma and disparities for people and neighborhoods who for generations have had to have the talk with our children about surviving these incidents."
Supporters say this policy will lead to less crime because it frees up officers to focus on serious offenses.
Last month, the Minneapolis Police Department announced a similar program in conjunction with the Minneapolis City Attorney's Office. But this is the first county-wide effort in the state of Minnesota.
St. Paul police say they're exploring ways to enforce these lesser offenses, including taking down license plates and generating a letter that would explain the offense and what the person's options are.
Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association Executive Director Brian Peter released a statement following the county attorney's announcement.
"Basically, the county attorney just announced his office won't uphold the law and won't prosecute those break it. That's absurd, and is a slap in the face to victims of crime," Peter said. "Ramsey County residents be warned: those that break the law won't even get a slap on the wrist --- they'll get a high-five from the county attorney and be left to commit more, and more serious offenses. Reduction of crime and public safety for all should be our focus as the crime rate escalates – and this isn't it."
Republican members of the House and Senate have also issued statements in opposition to the new policy.
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