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Traffic stop bill intended to ensure safety

View on rear mirror of a car. Police car with lights and siren is chasing you.
State legislator says bill slated for governor’s signature ‘somewhat controversial, but relatively modest’

Oregon Senate Bill 1510, which was approved by the Legislature last week, received the most attention for barring police from making traffic stops based solely on some common traffic offenses.

The bill states that a malfunctioning headlight, tail light, brake light – as long as the other head, tail or brake lights work – or a noncompliant registration plate are no longer enough to initiate a traffic stop.

Officers will be required to seek consent to search vehicles and obtain the person’s signature or record the person providing consent on video or audio.

SB 1510 also calls for creation of the Justice Reinvention Equity Program, which will provide $10 million to a variety of culturally specific organizations and culturally responsive service providers across the state in an effort to reduce crime. This would be achieved by bolstering community services that provide or link people to assistance with addiction, mental health and other crises.

But SB 1510 will also usher in a variety of other changes in law enforcement, as well as parole and probation.

State Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said the bill’s ultimate goal is to ensure everyone feels safe.

“It’s about pursuing a vision we all share in common,” Marsh said.

She described the traffic stop and consent portions of SB 1510 as “somewhat controversial, but relatively modest.”

This is because police could continue citing drivers for these problems — as long as the traffic stop was made for some other crime or violation, and if the vehicle appears to be unsafe, an officer can still stop the driver.

And if a driver appears to be impaired, the police officer will “observe more than one problem,” she said.

These types of stops being downgraded from primary reasons for police to stop drivers can be beneficial for another reason: Because they “can spark confrontations that endanger police officers and drivers,” Marsh said.

Marsh was a co-sponsor of HB 2475, which was approved in 2021 and directed the Department of Justice to establish a program that awards grants to local governments and law enforcement agencies to train groups and agencies to effectively interact with people who have experienced trauma.

Under SB 1510, a section of Oregon Revised Statutes, 181A.530, will require those working to become certified as parole and probation officers to complete training to provide “trauma-informed care, culturally specific services and de-escalation techniques.”

Marsh said she would like to see everyone involved in law enforcement and justice — who might come into contact with people who have been traumatized — receive this type of training.

SB 1510 is on its way to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk for her signature. The bill will be put through a standard review process by staff of the governor — and the governor herself will also review it “when it reaches her desk,” said Liz Merah, Brown’s press secretary.

Some exceptions noted in the bill allow additional time for changes in why an officer can stop someone as well as the search consent rules. These won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023.

This allows law enforcement to “adapt accordingly,” said Medford police Lt. Rebecca Pietila. “As police officers, we will adjust accordingly as we have done and continue to do within our ever- changing profession.”

Pietila said the department often relies on the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office for training that might be needed to conform to changes in the law, as well as legislative updates.