Oregon lawmakers consider bill that would limit traffic stops, ensure written consent for vehicle searches

SALEM, Ore. — As Oregon lawmakers continue their short session, they’re considering a bill that would limit traffic stops for certain equipment violations. Supporters say the goal is to reduce racial profiling and unnecessary interactions with law enforcement.

Senate Bill 1510 covers a number of issues related to public safety and criminal justice, from governing police stops and consent searches to addressing post-prison supervision and the investment of millions of dollars into culturally specific social services.

Babak Zolfaghari-Azar, senior policy manager at Partnership for Safety and Justice, is part of the Transforming Justice Coalition which helped craft this legislation.

“It really started in the summer of 2020, after George Floyd was murdered,” he said. “Several organizations and folks throughout the state who were already doing racial justice work came together to develop and advance the kind of public safety and criminal justice reforms that are essential for Black and brown communities to feel safe.

One of those reforms was changing how traffic stops are handled.

“All these years later I can still recall all the details of the police stops that I’ve experienced in my life,” said Zolfaghari-Azar. “They honestly changed the trajectory of my life. And if these policies were included, and would’ve been in place, then I wouldn’t be living with those experiences.”

Sen. Floyd Prozanski explained Senate Bill 1510 is a reconfiguration of a bill from last year that tackled similar issues.

“What it does is it takes five tools out of the toolbox that law enforcement officers have in being able to stop a vehicle on the road. These are equipment violations — an equipment violation is a single tail light being out, or a single headlight.”

Under this bill, these would be considered secondary offenses. You couldn’t get pulled over for them, but if an officer pulled you over for something else they could also write you up for the violation.

Sen. Prozanski said it doesn’t remove the ability for law enforcement to pull people over, since a driver could still be stopped for speeding or a moving violation like failing to use a turn signal.

The bill also requires the officer to tell the driver they have a right to refuse a search of their vehicle. If the driver consents to a search, an officer must get documentation.

“That could be done by someone signing a form that says that they are giving consent, and now with body cams in many departments within the state, or with car cameras, they can do the same thing by just getting it on tape,” Sen. Prozanski said. “Basically we are adopting something that is already in practice and we are just expanding it across the board to all agencies.”

The Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association and Oregon Association Chiefs of Police, said they’re taking a neutral position on this bill, as explained during the Senate Judiciary Hearing earlier this month:

“While we (OSSA and OACP) are taking a neutral position on SB 1510, we want to flag one part of the bill that we cannot support. We are opposed to prohibiting an officer from making a traffic stop for a defective headlight, taillight or license plate light. While we appreciate adjustments to this language to make these a secondary violation as opposed to an outright prohibition, we still believe that the inability to stop a vehicle for an inoperative tail light or headlight creates a safety hazard for the motoring public. The hazard is elevated during times of inclement weather, fog or other conditions that impact visibility and can lead to tragedy.”

You can read the full bill by clicking here.

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