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Police officers shouldn't have ‘unfettered discretion’ to make pretextual stops, says former Detroit Police chief

One major police reform that needs to be made is taking back “all of that unfettered discretion,” that police officers have to make stops, former Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee recently told Yahoo Finance on the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death.

We need to look at “the number of pretextual stops that officers are involved in,” said Gosbee. According to the University of Dayton Law School, pretextual stops “are often used by law enforcement as a method to initiate a stop and search of automobiles suspected to involve criminal activity. A pretextual traffic stop involves a police officer stopping a driver for a traffic violation, minor or otherwise, to allow the officer to then investigate a separate and unrelated, suspected criminal offense.”

“The reality is, if you go through any vehicle code in any state in the United States, it is so voluminous, realistically, an officer can justify stopping anyone,” Godbee explained, adding that the problem is that pretextual stops are “not done equally in different communities.”

According to Godbee, “what happened with Daunte Wright being stopped for a hanging air freshener on his [rear]view mirror for obstructed vision, that would not occur in a more affluent community. However, officers have so much unfettered discretion.”

The former police chief said we need to “really put a much more strict standard on what officers are allowed to utilize relative to pretext for stops.”

Godbee believes that the police in America have “not earned the opportunity to be given the benefit of the doubt as to our word,” highlighting the death of Ronald Green, where police told the family he had died in a car accident. The reality is, Godbee said, was that Green was “beaten to death by police officers.”

Many say enacting police reform will be difficult, or slow to implement, given the more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies around the country. But Godbee says defunding and building up police agencies in the United States is a viable option.

“When Leonardo da Vinci did renderings of an airplane,” he said, “it didn't seem possible then, but now we cannot imagine a world without flying.”

Godbee said that while some may not think it’s practical, that we have to “set the bar extremely high” given where things currently stand in America.

“Considering, we were just excited recently to find out that Derek Chauvin was convicted for committing murder on tape. That's an extremely low bar,” he added. “And if we continue to go at that pace, it will not be in my lifetime. It won't be in my daughter's lifetime, nor will it be in my grandchild's lifetime to see substantive change as to how Black and brown individuals are treated by law enforcement in the United States.”

Kristin Myers is a reporter and anchor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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