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Minneapolis traffic stops down 80 percent since George Floyd was killed

The Minneapolis Police Department has been making an average of 80 percent fewer traffic stops since George Floyd's murder.

The Minneapolis Police Department has been making an average of 80 percent fewer traffic stops since George Floyd's murder. Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

We don’t know what kind of long-term, lasting change will take place as a result of the Minneapolis Uprising.

Some things have changed already.

The Minneapolis Police Department has been making an average of 80 percent fewer traffic stops in the weeks since May 25, the day Geoge Floyd was killed by police officers, according to data collected by Bloomberg CityLab.

It’s fair to point out that we’re not exactly having a normal year in the first place. COVID-19 and social distancing have certainly reduced the number of people out on the roads. But according to Bloomberg, the drop at the end in May was “far steeper” than the immediate aftermath of Minnesota’s state emergency declaration.

“It’s a particularly striking data point given observations in some U.S. cities that police appear to be quietly disengaging from some parts of their jobs,” Bloomberg reports.

Also down in Minneapolis: stops for “suspicious vehicles” (by 24 percent) and “suspicious person” stops (by 39 percent).

Bloomberg says that the police department answered technical questions and “assisted in the parsing of this data,” but didn’t respond to requests for comment on why we might be seeing this change.

CityLab suggests one possible explanation as “pullback” – police scaling back their presence as a response to public criticism. Other possible contributing factors: officers asking to go on leave, changing police priorities, and other effects of COVID-19.

When City Pages reached out, department spokesperson John Elder said he didn’t have the exact numbers to vet these claims.

“I do know stops are down as we, along with almost every major metropolitan city, has seen an uptick in crime," Elder said.

Officers don't have as much ability to “engage in as much self-initiated field activities” while they’re dealing with the additional call load, Elder says.

CityLab speculates this trend might just push Minneapolis a little closer to what advocates of criminal justice reform want to see in their city: less reliance on armed police officers for average, everyday problems.

The traffic stop in particular poses a unique problem, simply because it leaves so much discretion to the officer. Stanford University’s Open Policing Project analyzed some 100 million stops and found that Black drivers were 20 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. It’s a trend that bears out in Minneapolis, too, where Black people represent only 19 percent of the population, but get pulled over more than white residents year after year.

Unfortunately, even though stops are down, CityLab's data still found those disparities. Between the end of May and August, nearly half of all traffic stops recorded were of Black people; only about a quarter were white. Most of those stops took place in north Minneapolis, where Black residents make up a plurality of the population.

That means, at the very least, more fines and fees inflicted upon Black residents than white ones. And at the very worst, we get situations like we got in 2016 – the shooting of 32-year-old Philando Castile, who was pulled over after being mistakenly pegged as a suspect in a robbery.

Studies conducted by the Public Defender’s Office of Hennepin County in the immediate aftermath of Castile’s death found that between June 2017 and May 2018, 72 percent of people searched during a traffic stop were Black. Only 15 percent were white. Guns were found only 4 percent of the time, drugs about 24 percent of the time.

The difference in who got caught with what was negligible. White drivers were found to be slightly more likely (0.5 percent) than Black drivers to have contraband.

A followup study between 2019 and 2020 updated those numbers to 78 percent Black and East African and 12 percent white. After being stopped, 41 percent of white drivers were eventually arrested, while only 26 percent of Black and East African drivers were.

It’s still not clear how policing itself will change as protests and calls for reform continue. Minneapolis is still struggling to envision its own version of reform amid calls to disband, defund, and abolish police, and a reported uptick in crime. But if these numbers teach us anything, it’s that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and some kind of change is inevitable.

And not just inevitable. In progress.