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Denver police shifts away from low-level traffic stops to prioritize 'bigger threats to public safety'

Posted: 4:45 PM, May 16, 2024
Updated: 2024-05-16 19:26:18-04
Denver Police

DENVER — Denver Police Department officers have begun shifting away from conducting low-level traffic stops in order to prioritize incidents they deem may pose bigger threats to public safety.

The policy shift began on May 1, 2024.

Denver Police Department Chief Ron Thomas said he chose to shift away from conducting low-level traffic stops after learning other states and cities had made similar changes.

"I kind of began doing my own kind of independent study and looking at our own data and identified the fact that, you know, we make a lot of traffic stops and many of those traffic stops don't result in anything, they don't result in a citation, they don't result in an arrest, recovery of any kind of contraband or anything like that," said Chief Thomas.

Those low-level traffic violations include things like a broken tail light, a crack in a windshield, an air freshner dangling in the rear view mirror or even expired tags on vehicles.

"I won't suggest that we were wasting our time doing those traffic stops, I think maybe there might have been a better opportunity for us to make better use of our time," said Chief Thomas.

Which is why Chief Thomas said the department is making this shift now. He said he wants to prioritize "bigger threats to public safety."

"I think that there are better ways that we can use our time," he said.

However, he added officers who suspect a bigger crime is at play will still conduct a low-level traffic stop if they deem necessary.

"If they're driving in a neighborhood late at night, where they are aware of the fact that there's a lot of nighttime burglaries, for instance, and they see a car driving in this particular neighborhood, and they have some low-level infraction, they could stop for that reason," he said. "If the car matches the description of a car that was used in a crime, you know, that would be another reason why they could use that low-level justification to make that stop."

A Denver Police Department training bulletin adds "low-level traffic stops will not be conducted unless officers are acting upon articulable information in addition to the traffic violation, which may or may not amount to reasonable suspicion, regarding a serious crime, such as" the following:

  • Driving under the influence
  • Reckless driving
  • Street racing
  • Hit-and-run accidents
  • Guns and gun violence
  • Burglary
  • Dangerous drugs
  • Any other similarly serious crime

The police chief added the decision to make the shift in policy was also done to regain community trust.

While Chief Thomas feels it's a good idea, others don't agree.

In a statement, Tyson Worrell, the President for the Denver Police Protective Association said the following:

Murderers, Auto thieves and Fentanyl dealers all operate vehicles at some point in time. While, the policy does not prohibit traffic stops, it limits the ability to stop vehicles for lawful traffic violations. This potentially leaves offenders in the community. Our officers will continue to work diligently to address these issues and stay within the policy.

When asked how his officers felt about the shift, Chief Thomas told Denver7 there was some concern among officers.

"I think they just need to understand that I'm not, you know, outlawing making low-level traffic stops, I'm just asking that they provide that justification," he said.

DPD shifts away from low-level traffic stops, prioritizing higher level crimes


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