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The debate over traffic stops for minor offenses remains unsettled

The debate over traffic stops for minor offenses remains unsettled
The debate over traffic stops for minor offenses remains unsettled 02:08

MINNEAPOLIS -- There's no such thing as a "routine" traffic stop, even if a driver is pulled over for the lowest level of violation.

A violation of expired tabs in Hopkins this month ended up leading to murder charges.

Officers determined the driver, Leontawan Holt, had an arrest warrant out for a parole violation. Holt's now been charged with murder in a Minneapolis shooting from April.

"When it comes to the reasons why we conduct certain traffic stops, it is all about educating the public, creating that traffic safety and at times, there will be situations where officers arrest individuals for greater and higher-level crimes," said Captain Craig Kreiling with the Hopkins Police Department.

Any benefits of low-level traffic stops didn't prevent Minneapolis and St. Paul police from putting an end to the practice last year.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi also no longer prosecutes felonies resulting from low-level stops.

Supporters of these policies point to research showing traffic stops are often biased against people of color. They also question how stopping someone for expired tabs or a broken taillight increases public safety.

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"The rate at which guns were being taken off the streets because of these stops was miniscule," said Teresa Nelson, the legal director for the ACLU of Minnesota. "Pulling somebody over for these small offenses ... is not the way to develop relationships with the community that police serve."

Not stopping drivers who are visibly breaking a law has its critics, too.

"It's absolutely ridiculous is what I think," said Joseph Dutton, a police trainer and former officer. "Officers take an oath to enforce the laws of the state, and if [cities or county attorneys] don't like the officers doing that, then I suggest they go to the State Capitol and get those laws taken off the books."

Kreiling says it's unreasonable, and "almost unfair" to drivers, for different cities to enforce traffic laws differently.

"We are looking out for the safety of our community ... and part of that is enforcing traffic laws here," he said.

In the 8.5 months since Minneapolis put an end to low-level stops, the number of citations issued during traffic stops has dropped by 70 percent from the previous 8.5 months.

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