Ohio lawmakers look into law banning police from pulling drivers over for low-level traffic offenses

Josiah Quarles says he's been pulled over by police more than 15 times. He thinks a law like...
Josiah Quarles says he's been pulled over by police more than 15 times. He thinks a law like this could make a huge difference in Cleveland.(Kelly Kennedy)
Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 5:59 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Stopping drivers for minor infractions like tinted windows or a broken taillight has been encouraged by some police departments because it can be a pretext for stopping drivers suspected of carrying illegal weapons or narcotics, but critics say these traffic stops lead to a disproportionate number of drivers of color getting pulled over.

19 News wanted to find out if it’s happening here in Cleveland.

40-year-old Josiah Quarles says since he’s had his license, he’s been pulled over at least 15 times.

The Cleveland man says frequent traffic stops are a reality most Black men in America learn to deal with from an early age.

“Just hearing a siren, or just seeing a police car behind me or beside me, raises my heartbeat level,” Quarles said. “I get very anxious. For a while, I would actually shake. I’ve worked past that. "

Recently, Philadelphia became the first major us city to pass a law banning police officers from pulling drivers over for minor traffic violations.

“I’ve been pulled over a lot in my life,” explained Quarles. “License plate light out, taillight out, not putting my blinker on when I’m changing lanes, like anything, not only is it, is there implicit bias within people pulling over specific people, particularly Black males, particularly, there’s also the added, understanding that, that we suffer from less economic opportunities and therefore, a lot of times you’re making a choice between, you know, putting dinner on the table for your family or fixing your taillight and that kind of choice should not be met with arrest powers and guns.”

19 News requested data on traffic stops from Cleveland police and were told that data did not exist.

Instead, police sent back data on traffic citations.

19 News found that since the beginning of 2020, 8,000 more black drivers were issued traffic citations compared to white drivers.

“So, one of the things is that many of the studies and the data that we get about the disproportionate nature of Black people being stopped by law enforcement, it really doesn’t tell the complete story, because most of the data that we have is incomplete if it’s actually being reported at all,” said State Representative Stephanie Howse. “So many of the studies that you see are piecemealing things together.”

Comparing that data to the overall population of Cleveland based on last year’s census, Black drivers received 48% of the total traffic tickets since 2020, compared to 34% of white drivers.

Representative Stephanie Howse says she’s working with other democrats right now to draft similar legislation.

“There have been far too many studies, you know, and very unfortunate, unnecessary incidents that have led to death untimely, inexcusable death, and having someone on a local level to put forth what we have in the form of driving equality,” said Howse. “A law in Philadelphia, really, I think is just a step in the right direction.”

The law which goes into effect early next year also requires city police to track and publicly release data on traffic stops.

“If you can just address the small thing in itself in a way that is safe and doesn’t kind of put people in this confrontational situation with badges and arrest powers and guns and all of those things, I think it’s better for everybody,” Quarles said.

In 2016 Philando Castile was killed by police, following a traffic stop for a missing taillight, that case garnered national attention to the way low-level traffic stops are handled.

It’s something Quarles says should have been looked at decades ago.

“I have been, you know, asked to get out of the car when I didn’t think that was necessary on multiple occasions, and even had a gun pulled on me once. So, it’s, I mean, once you go through things like that, I mean, that trauma is revisited every time regardless of what the outcome is, regardless of how cordial and nice that officer ends up being.”

Under the new law, while low-level infractions like a broken taillight or expired registration will no longer lead to interactions between police and divers, they will still result in a citation that will be sent to you in the mail or left on your windshield.

“People will have their day in court if necessary to be able to plead their case,” explained Howse “But it is an unnecessary burden, even on law enforcement or the person who’s driving to have maybe an unnecessary, tense moment for something that’s very minor.”

Quarles believes a law like this would be a step towards repairing the relationship between the community and the police.

“It’s a step,” Quarles said. “So that, you know, there’s a less, less adversarial stance, it’s less of an occupying force feel like a checkpoint feel and if we can take some of the things off their plate, perhaps they can have, you know, better involvement with communities.”

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