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Your light's burned out: spotlight on pretextual police stops

One commentator calls it a conversation "the country needs to have."

Another terms it a "debate" that needs spotlighting and could benefit from a national platform.

One of those individuals is a physician/professor who has been stopped for minor infractions that are used by police officers as a pretextual springboard to routinely probe for further evidence of ongoing criminal activity.

The other is a police chief who acknowledges the practice and believes it needs to be thoroughly evaluated and likely changed to increase fairness and improve police/citizen interactions across the country.

No one needs to be told that such interactions are under a microscope these days, with high-profile incidents roiling the relationship between police departments and the public in communities across the country.

It's no secret that police officers can -- and do -- routinely find myriad and clearly minor reasons for stopping drivers, which the aforementioned police chief concedes is "not the most important reason why they're stopping a car" in a given case.

As that officer notes, the "real" reason is more aimed at finding things like drugs and guns.

Here's a question posed by a recent news article spotlighting the practice of pretextual police stops: "[I]f an officer finds one illegal gun in 20 stops, is that effective?"

The bottom line pointed to in the article stresses that it might be a broadly positive development nationally for police officers to materially deemphasize the practice of stopping motorists for things like defective equipment, when it is clear -- at least to legions of people in the general public -- what the real purpose is behind a stop.

The above-cited debate on the subject hardly seems about to go away, given the constant cascade of recent stories chronicling adverse outcomes involving police stops.

Hopefully, continued high-profile discussions will lead to increased knowledge and police actions that routinely promote rather than undermine public trust.

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Law Office of Christopher A. Connelly
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Charlotte, NC 28204

Phone: 704-376-9376
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