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    Time for New Solutions to Oakland’s Speeding Problems

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    It seems that every day there is a report of a fatal hit and run or reckless speeding that has resulted in serious injury on Oakland’s streets. It has become a precarious endeavor for anyone, but especially the elderly and children, to cross the street or even walk on the sidewalk. We need stronger action to make our streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and others.

    The practice has been to rely exclusively on police officers for speeding enforcement, but this has not been working well. In a city the size of Oakland, it is not possible for the police to create a sufficient presence to catch speeding violations or to be a deterrent that would discourage dangerous driving activity, which has caused serious injury and fatalities. The discretionary, disparate treatment of African Americans, and the ways that traffic stops have sometimes resulted in people being killed by police during traffic stops, are also reasons that the more effective options of civilian and automated traffic enforcement are desirable. 

    We need strategies that avoid racial disparities, and prevent traffic stops from escalating into police shootings, while making speeding enforcement more effective and more broadly implemented. The answer is alternative traffic enforcement.

    Alternative traffic enforcement is the use of cameras and/or civilian personnel, such as Department of Transportation staff, to enforce traffic laws. This approach to traffic enforcement frees up the police to focus on serious crime, reduces the likelihood of problematic police interactions, and improves reliability and fairness of enforcement. It also represents a potential savings for a city, since it costs more for sworn officers to address these violations. 

    These systems can reduce racial disparities. “Driving While Black” is the familiar term to describe the racial profiling used by law enforcement when an African American driver is stopped for little to no reason. The fear of a traffic stop escalated with no apparent reason is well known in communities of color. With the use of cameras looking at license plates rather than individuals, automated systems, and local civilian staffing, communities of color could get a ticket for speeding, and it would no longer be a potentially life-threatening situation.

    The City of Berkeley has already taken steps in this direction. In July, Berkeley approved the use of transportation personnel to conduct traffic stops. The City of San Francisco has also previously expressed interest in alternative methods of speeding enforcement. Oakland is also now working on strategies to provide for options beyond using an armed officer for these situations. But allowing cities flexibility for these solutions requires a change in state law in California. 

    The California Legislature needs to assist municipalities like Oakland, Berkeley, and beyond with more flexibility to innovate as we address this danger on Oakland’s streets. Alternative traffic enforcement is one place where that assistance could begin. The legislature needs to amend state laws, to allow cities the discretion to use methods for speeding enforcement that are fairer and more effective. 

    Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland
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    Published on September 24, 2020