Understanding Bias-Based Traffic Law Enforcement:
A Manual To Reduce Bias-Based Traffic Law Enforcement

Understanding Bias-Based Traffic law Enforcement


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Traffic Enforcement

Community Outreach

Data Collection


Legislation and Case Law


There has been a tremendous outcry against bias-based traffic enforcement in many parts of the country. In fact, the media often report on police behavior and race-related issues. Community support is the key to getting the public to voluntarily comply with laws before aggressive enforcement becomes necessary. You can begin by building partnerships with advocacy groups, local businesses, schools, judges, prosecutors, and elected officials. Partners can help you get the message out to your community. One of the most important ways to improve police/community race relations is through communication. Use your cable and local television stations, radio, daily and weekly newspapers, and industry magazines to reach out to the community. There is no better way to get your message to the public.

I. Community Assessments

What do you want from your community and what does your community want from you? If a community has a problem with police relations, a multitude of concerns is typically involved. Police community relations should be based on mutual respect. In those communities that have problems, you will find “respect” at the top of the list of concerns. Too often, both community members and the law enforcement officers view police calls to the community as “unwelcome service,” creating tension and apprehension in police officers who do not want to be there, and in a community that does not want police there.

II. Service and Protection

People across America want to feel safe on our roads. However, some community members feel threatened when police are strongly enforcing traffic laws. Therefore, it will benefit law enforcement agencies as well as the community if officers get out of their cars, visit citizens, hold checkpoints and pass out public relations literature, missing persons bulletins, and other general information. The idea is to be ambassadors of service and protection.

Law enforcement also should have a presence in the community even when nothing out of the ordinary is happening. For example, offer assistance with child safety seats, buckle up campaigns, regular town meetings, ride alongs, and self-defense classes. All of these activities emphasize the message of “service and protection.” Although most American jurisdictions and its law enforcement agencies are not having problems with bias-based policing, several states have been forced to confront racial profiling. In this context, it is only prudent that law enforcement officials take proactive steps to minimize the probability of being charged with differential policing. It is important that law enforcement go to community leaders, express concerns, open lines of communication, and enlist their opinions and support.

III. What Can You Do?

  • Offer training programs to local leaders (mayor, city council members, business owners, etc.) or invite them to your departmental training.

  • Set up a dedicated hotline for motorists to report harassment or suspected bias-based traffic law enforcement.

  • Set up meetings with church leaders to define your objectives in specific communities, and to ensure bias-based policing will not be tolerated.

  • Visit the schools and have your area resource officers address the police/ community.

It is important to remember that change comes slowly and officers’ attitudes are slow to change. Community perceptions are also slow to change. But the goal is to establish a dialogue to put this change into motion. It is the duty of law enforcement to serve and protect equally and without prejudice. To have success at achieving department goals, agencies are encouraged to enlist the community to get the much-needed insight.


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picture of police officers at a community checkpoint