Assessment of pre-textual traffic stops and racial profiling

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Posted July 6, 2020 | By Henry DeGeneste

I have determined, based on my long history in law enforcement, that the death of George Floyd and the ensuing national concern may serve as a turning point in necessary police reform. Despite national, state and local efforts, resulting in studies, reports and recommendations, we as a nation have failed. Therefore, I would like to highlight one critical issue that has had a significant negative effect on the minority population over several decades.

Police and political leadership need to recognize and deal with the issue of racial profiling of motorists on our nation’s roadways. Commonly referred to as “Driving While Black,” this issue has accounted for incalculable distrust and suspicion among the minority community for decades. It has led to death, injuries and excessive incarceration for members of the minority population in America. It is no secret that the construct of “racial profiling” over the decades has had and continues to have a significant negative impact on communities of color.

Police agencies need to end the use of pretext traffic stops as a crime-fighting tool. All evidence to date suggests that using traffic laws for non-traffic purposes has been a disaster for people of color and has deeply eroded public confidence in law enforcement.

Legislation on traffic stops needs to be passed in every state – legislation that would require the collection of data that includes the race, ethnicity and sex of the driver and whether a search was performed. At a minimum, police and sheriff’s departments with 100 or more sworn officers should be required to collect traffic stop data on race, ethnicity and sex of the driver, which then allows for research, study and analysis by an independent entity like the National Police Foundation. (

To date there is no empirical evidence to prove that pre-textual traffic stops have been effective as a crime-fighting tactic, and in fact it only exacerbates deeply eroded public confidence in law enforcement that is felt particularly in communities of color.

Pre-textual traffic stops fuel the belief that the police are not only unfair and biased, but untruthful as well, especially when the tactic is used primarily against the minority community.

Henry DeGeneste retired as director of public safety and superintendent of police for the Port Authority Police of New York & New Jersey. He also serves as vice president of the National Police Foundation.

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