WABA Supports the STEP Act in Montgomery County

WABA envisions a just and safe transportation system. We are committed to working to achieve that vision and to advancing transportation equity, which means that systemic injustice doesn’t limit how people get around. 

Police-led traffic enforcement is not equitable.

Data from the county and across the country is clear: police traffic stops perpetuate systemic racial injustice. People of color are more likely to be targeted by police for stops, more likely to be adversely affected by ensuing fines, and more likely to be victims of police violence at traffic stops. This is not an acceptable status quo.

Local statistics show that police traffic stops disproportionately target Black and brown community members. According to the Montgomery County’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) reported in October 2022:

“Black drivers accounted for a higher percentage of traffic stops (30%) than the percentage of the adult population that is Black (18%).”

The OLO further reported, 

“Data show that Black drivers accounted for 43% of searches and 38% of arrests during traffic stops, while Black adults account for 18% of the County’s adult population. Similarly, Latinx drivers accounted for 31% of searches and 35% of arrests, while Latinx adults accounted for 19% of the County’s adult population.” 

A bill now before the Montgomery County Council, the Safety and Traffic Equity in Policing (STEP) Act, Bill 12-23, would address this injustice by directing county police not to stop drivers for a variety of low-level offenses. While we recognize the public-safety aim of stops, police enforcement of low-level offenses that don’t endanger vulnerable road users simply does more community harm than good. 

WABA supports the STEP ACT, with a request for amendment to address roadway safety implications for people who walk, bicycle, and roll and other vulnerable road users, such as continued police stops for unilluminated headlights and taillights in circumstances when use is required. We continue to support policies that revoke driving privileges for drivers who endanger others.

Safe streets are equitable streets. 

The work of achieving transportation equity begins with addressing past and present harm and preventing future harm. Police traffic stops represent a clear past and present harm. It is in our power – it is our responsibility – to address that harm and, by addressing it in tandem with other steps, to prevent future harm.

Representing CASA, an advocacy organization, at a hearing on the STEP Act, Erica Puentes Martinez testified “Many of our members carry the fear that interactions with officers can result in violent outcomes.” 

This fear is well founded, according to Montgomery County statistics. Police use force against Black and brown people at far higher rates than white people – 80% of all county use-of-force incidents in 2022 – placing individuals mostly likely to be stopped at even greater risk of harm. 

You can watch all of CASA’s testimony here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RL9CUl1Y6k&t=4297s.

This testimony, from Omodamola Williams, whose traffic-enforcement interaction led to incarceration, is also worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RL9CUl1Y6k&t=2821s.

Police-led enforcement is the least effective way to safer streets.

We know from data from around the world that reengineering is the best way to improve roadway safety. Bike lanes, pedestrian improvements, lane narrowing, lower speed limits, and other engineering solutions remain the focus of WABA’s advocacy. 

Multiple studies and reviews of traffic safety and crime rates reveal that deprioritizing low-level traffic stops and/or prohibiting associated consent searches have positive impacts on traffic safety and no impacts on crime. National organizations are advocating for legislation and policies like the STEP Act to increase equity and safety including Vera Institute of Justice; NYU Policing Project; Center for Policing Equity; Urban Institute; and Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP).

Regionally, we work in partnership and solidarity with groups like CASA, the Montgomery County Women’s Democratic Club, Silver Spring Justice Coalition, Jews United for Justice, church groups, and others to build support for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure improvements, and just policies that advance an equitable transportation system.

WABA’s full testimony on the STEP Act is here.
WABA remains committed to a just, safe, and equitable transportation system. The work isn’t always easy – sometimes it requires difficult conversations. But it’s necessary. If you wish, please get in touch with us at advocacy@waba.org, to share your thoughts.