Research has repeatedly shown that Black and brown people are highly overpoliced in San Francisco. Many of these interactions with the police are caused by pretextual stops, where officers cite non-safety violations as a coverup for racial bias against everyday people riding bikes, walking, or driving on city streets. These stops harm community relationships and waste resources without decreasing criminal activity. Join us today to call for the San Francisco Police Department to prioritize community safety by banning pretext stops.
Virtually everyone who navigates San Francisco on a bike, on foot, or in a car commits traffic infractions that can be used as pretexts for police stops. Infractions can be as minor as biking without pedal reflectors, jaywalking across an empty street, or hanging items from a rearview mirror. SFPD claims that police focus on behaviors, not race, but in reality they make biased choices on who to stop for these infractions and who to disregard. The consequences of biased stops are severe: in the last quarter of 2021, San Francisco police stopped Black people at five times the rate of white people, searched Black people at eight times as much as white people, and used force against Black people thirteen times as often as against white people. Banning pretextual stops is a simple reform that would greatly reduce these persistent racial disparities in policing.
Police justify pretextual stops by saying that they lead to seizures of prohibited items. However, research shows that these stops do not increase public safety or decrease criminal activity. In fact, Stanford’s Open Policing Project found that Black people are actually less likely to be found with contraband than white people.
In addition to wasting resources, pretextual stops cause incalculable psychological and physical harm, especially to Black and brown community members. Daunte Wright, Cristian Cobian, Sandra Bland, and Philando Castile were all killed by police following pretextual stops. Even when they do not lead to usage of force, unnecessary stops contribute to intergenerational trauma experienced by communities of color. Banning pretextual stops will increase public safety by limiting state violence that has historically harmed Black and brown communities.
As a part of the Coalition to End Biased Stops, the SF Bicycle Coalition has urged the San Francisco Police Commission to follow the lead of other cities, such as Berkeley, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, to move toward banning pretextual stops.
Our call to ban pretext stops was heard by SF Police Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone, who on May 11 introduced a general order to ban certain stops. Commissioner Carter-Oberstone’s proposal is far from optimal, as it fails to consider key pretexts such as biking without a helmet or reflectors, meaning that biased stops can still occur based on these infractions. However, it marks a substantial first step toward eliminating biased stops.
We need your support to ensure that all pretextual stops are banned as soon as possible. The Police Commission is accepting public comment from now until the general order goes to hearing, likely in late summer. Join us in showing the commissioners the urgency of this issue, and submit a comment calling for a ban on all pretextual stops today.