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Is Armed Policing Our Best Bet To Improve Traffic Safety? LA Is Exploring Other Options

(Illustration by Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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This summer, a group of Los Angeles City Council members filed a motion calling on the city's Department of Transportation and legislative officials to work with community members and report back on alternative methods of traffic enforcement, collision investigations and other traffic safety duties currently handled by the L.A. Police Department.

Some potential changes that will be explored: replacing LAPD officers with a "transit ambassador program" staffed by unarmed LADOT personnel and/or automated technology to monitor and cite drivers for speeding, illegal turns and other moving violations.

"Such a move would virtually eliminate the LAPD's role in traffic stops, one of the leading forms of interaction between police and the public," states the motion, which was filed by L.A. City Councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Mike Bonin, Curren Price and Herb Wesson.

A growing number of city officials and transportation experts view the impact of armed police enforcement of traffic laws as "mixed at best." And given the history of racism in policing, particularly as it relates to traffic stops, many communities simply don't equate police with safer streets and neighborhoods.

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L.A.'s streets have gotten more dangerous and deadly in recent years, especially for pedestrians. And data show that Angelenos in the city's underserved communities, which include more people of color, are disproportionately killed in traffic crashes.

Even before the protests this year intensified criticism of American policing, some safety advocates and traffic experts had been calling for a new approach. Instead of traffic stops by armed officers, they advocate for renewed investments in street improvements, education and alternative methods to hold drivers accountable.

There is mounting evidence that those strategies can make notable progress in reducing death and injury on the road — progress that has eluded L.A. in recent years.

I dove deep to explore how systemic racism and political shortfalls have undermined L.A.'s goal to end traffic violence — and how things could change. Like many of the city's longstanding problems, some solutions may be simple in theory, but in practice, they're miles away from easy.