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U.S. cities rethinking traffic stops as Black drivers disproportionately affected

Cities across America re-think traffic stops
American cities are re-thinking traffic stops 03:52

A traffic stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, started over a license plate and ended with Patrick Lyoya dead.  

For his family of Congolese refugees, the death defies logic. Police officers are supposed to protect lives, not take them, his father told CBS News' Adriana Diaz.  

To prevent similar incidents from happening in their city, Schor and other Lansing officials are trying something new in the state capitoL, an hour away from Grand Rapids: in 2020, two years before Lyoya's death, they banned traffic stops for minor infractions altogether. The goal is to avoid unnecessary escalations, racial profiling and pre-textual stops where an officer uses a minor violation to pull over and search a car. Schor said the move could save lives for both civilians and officers.  

"Our police officers are still pulling people over," Schor told CBS News. "But they're doing it for public safety reasons."  

The risk is worth the reward, according to Chief Ellery Sosebee of the Lansing Police Department. 

"If I pull over a traffic stop for a busted taillight and there's not a gun in there, and it escalates into something, that puts the officer's life in jeopardy or the citizen's life in jeopardy, it's just not worth it," Sosebee told CBS News.  

Sosebee said his officers are still coming around to the change.  

"Initially it was a hurdle and I'll be completely honest, it's a hard sell right now," he said. "Officers were concerned we were trying to take tools away from them."  

In the last five years, at least 400 unarmed drivers and passengers have been killed by police during traffic stops nationwide, according to a New York Times investigation. Black motorists are overrepresented.  

Daunte Wright was pulled over for expired license tags when he was shot and killed by an officer in a suburb of Minneapolis. Philando Castile was killed in a St. Paul suburb by an officer who said he thought Castile was pulling out a gun. In another escalation, a passenger killed police officer Ella French in Chicago.  

"If you want to limit police interaction with citizens, well, then you have to ask yourself, what are the consequences?" Chesapeake, Virginia Police chief Kelvin Wright told CBS News.  

Wright said Virginia's ban on traffic stops for minor infractions is a slippery slope. For him, escalation by police and citizens is the real problem, not traffic stops.  

"Things escalate out of control in domestics, in shoplifting — gosh, just about any type of call we respond to, which tells me that it is a people problem," he said.  

When CBS News asked Wright, who is Black, whether he has had the talk with his two sons about how to interact with police, he said, "I tell them these are the things you do to make sure you walk away from an interaction with the police officer OK."  

"There are ways to conduct traffic stops in all police interactions and minimize the potential harm. But I think it is a two-way street," Wright said.  

Schor hopes the ban will improve relations with police. 

"A lot of it is a trust factor," Schor said. "Our citizens have to be able to trust the police." 

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