Pretext Stops Discussion at the Samoan Community Development Center
A member of the Human Rights Commission speaks at a community listening session on pretext stops on Nov. 15, 2022, at the Samoan Community Development Center. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.

In the final two community meetings on how to revise a police policy on traffic stops, the message was clear: Stop pulling drivers over for most minor infractions.

And, there were other messages: Educate residents and police on the policy revision, improve relationships between police and community members, and hold police accountable for misconduct in a transparent manner.

“They got a lot of leeway to shoot you, and then we sort it out later, and then they’re back on the job,” said Jameel Patterson, who attended the listening session at Booker T. Washington Community Center on Nov. 16.  The night before, a community meeting, also organized by the Human Rights Commission, was held at the Samoan Community Development Center in Sunnydale.

Members of the Police Commission have proposed a policy change that would forbid police from pulling drivers over for a list of minor infractions that can be ticketed by mail. Data shows that such stops disproportionately impact Black and Brown drivers. Although similar lists of infractions has been approved in Pennsylvania and Virginia, the SFPD wants no list. 

The Human Rights Commission was tasked with holding community listening sessions to collect residents’ feedback on proposed policy changes.

Some 30 residents, most of them Samoan, attended the first of the final two sessions, while six residents, most of them Black — and several others, later in the meeting — attended the second. Many ideas brought forth echoed those at the meetings a week prior, where Black residents in the Western Addition and Potrero Hill agreed that the policy change was desperately needed. 

One woman at Booker T. Washington, who attended a previous meeting and asked not to be identified, was exasperated.

“Every night, you pass out these things that you know are wrong,” she said, holding up print-outs of data that show that Black and Hispanic residents are many times more likely to be stopped than white residents. “It’s not even police policy right now. It’s a human rights policy.”

The policy list

In one of the break-out groups at the Samoan Community Development Center, attendees agreed on barring officers from pulling people over for most of the minor infractions listed in the proposed policy change.

In several exceptions, they said that, although police generally shouldn’t pull people over for those exceptions, it could be reasonable, if safety was actually an issue.

They agreed that if it compromises safety, officers should be able to pull drivers over for defective taillights and brake lights, as well as littering. This was also brought up at a separate meeting, where attendees agreed that people should be pulled over for littering larger items, due to safety. 

Police Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone speaks at a community listening session on pretext stops on Nov. 15, 2022, at the Samoan Community Development Center. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.

Whereas the proposed list would prevent officers from pulling people over for “not displaying both license plates,” the group members found it debatable and recommended that police shouldn’t pull someone over, so long as one plate is visible and legible.

Like a different break-out group at a previous meeting, they also found it reasonable for police to pull a driver over for a full window tint, but not for partial tints.

Similar to groups at other meetings, they also said that, generally, police shouldn’t pull someone over for hanging items on a rearview mirror. Lynn Peleseuma recalled being stopped in Daly City for it.

But Peleseuma and others said they could see it being reasonable for an officer to pull someone over, although that would depend on how big the object is and whether it’s distracting.

What appeared perhaps the most unanimously and easily agreed upon list item at the four recent meetings concerned pulling people over for sleeping in their cars. 

“Leave them alone,” members of the break-out group said.

And, except in cases where the volume is excessive, the group also suggested adding “music and loud exhaust” to the list of reasons police cannot use to pull someone over.

Accountability, again

Echoing those at previous meetings, attendees at the Samoan Community Development Center and Booker T. Washington stressed that accountability must accompany any change of policy and that the public should be able to keep track of disciplinary action for police misconduct.

Investigations of nearly 4,000 complaints made against police between 2017 and 2021 resulted in just three officers being penalized with a 10-day suspension or a harsher outcome.

An attendee at Booker T. Washington pushed for a suggestion she gave at the meeting the previous week: To collect racial data on the arrests at each police station. So, for example, officers who bring in five Blacks and one white can be accountable for why.

A woman speaks at a community listening session on pretext stops on Nov. 16, 2022, at the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.

Education, again

Attendees at both meetings recommended taking numerous steps to teach members of the public and police officers about the policy revision.

The break-out group facilitated by Human Rights Commission’s Cathy Mulkey Myer in Sunnydale had a focus on educating people, especially young people making social media campaigns, she said.

Another idea was to have police take cultural bias training periodically, such as every two years.

A separate break-out group recommended hosting workshops, having mass campaigns and placing posters and small cheat sheets in communities, as well as getting community-based organizations involved in getting information out to people about the policy revision.

In Sunnydale, attendee John Lesha Ena recommended getting community-based organizations involved in educating different communities on the proposed changes — not just District 10, but also in Asian communities, such as Chinatown.

“All those different areas could all have a similar campaign and educate folks,” she said.

She added that inclusivity, sensitivity and cultural relevance should be accounted for in police training on new policy.

“Just making sure that the training is done by a group of diverse folks, or maybe developed by a group of diverse folks,” she said. “Making sure that you’re intentional about who you send to those communities, so that it’s relevant to the community and you’re not sending some person that has never been in a Black community.”

Better relationships, again

Echoing previous listening sessions, residents at the final meetings also wanted a better relationship between police officers and the communities they serve. 

A Samoan resident known as Dannyboy said that his group spoke about building those relationships. 

“It could be things like having sports games with the youth, or hosting things for the young people who may not have luxuries like other young people from more affluent neighborhoods,” he said. 

Lesha Ena recommended having community centers, such as the Samoan Community Development Center, become resources for police when pulling people over, to help avoid escalation.

“Just being another resource for them, instead of escalating a situation that doesn’t need to be escalated, and knowing that they have a Samoan center (when) they pull over someone, that’s a resource for them, as well, to reach out to to support in their work,” she said.

Lesha Ena said she used to hate the police, but that had changed.

“Now, we have family members that are close, right? And so, now their lives are at stake. And so I want to make sure that we support both sides, because it doesn’t make sense that I hate cops, but we’ve got Samoan brothers and sisters on the force,” she said. “So it’s like, how can I support those people, right? How do we support them, but also support a community that’s always abused by the same police force?”

At Booker T. Washington, Ivy Lee, the policy advisor on public safety and victims’ rights for Mayor London Breed, was in attendance and recalled discussing the policy with the mayor. Breed, she said, showed support for a ban on pretext stops, but did not know where the mayor stood on the specific list.   

The Human Rights Commission has held eight public meetings since August. It will present a preliminary report on its findings to the Police Commission on Dec. 7, and then the final report a week later, spokesperson Devi Zinzuvadia said.  

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David Mamaril Horowitz

David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in May 2021. In college, David played five different roles as an editor at student news publications and reported as an intern for three local newspapers, mostly while waiting tables at the Alamo Drafthouse. His first job was at Mitchell's Ice Cream.

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  1. her ‘zonor is again playing our community by her unwillingness to take a position on an important public policy.
    what a faakin’ croc.