Montgomery Co. bill would prohibit police from stopping drivers for some minor traffic offenses

There’s a new bill being considered in Montgomery County, Maryland, that would prevent police officers from making stops for certain minor traffic offenses.

It’s called The Safety and Traffic Equity in Policing, or the STEP Act. The bill, introduced Tuesday, would limit traffic stops for low-level moving violations as primary offenses, such as window tinting or defective taillights.

“This bill is part of reimagining public safety and focusing our police on the most urgent safety needs, as well as addressing racial and ethnic disparities,” said county Council member Will Jawando, who introduced the legislation with co-sponsor Council member Kristin Mink.

In a social media post, Jawando said the bill would free up police resources to focus on more serious crimes.

The legislation would also prohibit traffic stops for:

  • licensing and registration certificate of title or insurance
  • illuminated license plate
  • minor obstructions, including, signs, posters, and other nontransparent materials on the windshields

The STEP Act is in response to a report released by the council’s Office of Legislative Oversight, which found “disparities in police interactions by race and ethnicity.”

Additionally, the bill would:

  • prohibit consent searches of a vehicle by a police officer
  • require the collection of data and information related to traffic stops
  • exclude the limitations on traffic stops from collective bargaining
  • generally amend the County law regarding motor vehicle traffic policing

“Data show that Black and Latino drivers are stopped and searched during traffic stops for other traffic violations at disproportionately higher rates compared to white drivers,” the report found,

In a statement, police Chief Marcus Jones called the bill “bad legislation” and said it will make the the county “less safe” both on the roadways and the overall community.

Racial disparities should be researched properly to look at a comparison of those stopped by the police and the driving population and not Census data,” Jones said, adding that Montgomery County police have policies in place that forbid racial profiling and other bias-based policing.

“Montgomery County Police is against this legislation,” Jones’ statement said.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 said the bill tries to “restrict the ability of Montgomery County police” to keep the public safe.

“The continued efforts by some council members to defund the police through severely restricting officers’ ability to do their jobs is destroying morale and causing unprecedented resignation/retirements, in addition to an all-time low recruit application process,” the FOP statement said.

Montgomery County’s bill would be similar to ones that have become law across the country.

For example, Berkeley, California, removed traffic enforcement from the police and tasked it to the transportation division, according to the bill. Other jurisdictions, according to report, have banned police officers from making stops for minor traffic offenses, including Oakland, California; Lansing, Michigan; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Madison, Wisconsin; and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And Philadelphia was one of the first places to limit police from making traffic stops for incidents that are “secondary violations.” The city reclassified secondary violations to include unregistered vehicles, certificates of insurance, broken single taillights and minor vehicle obstructions.

A public hearing in Montgomery County is set for June, and council members will begin working through the bill in July.

“My hope is that we can work with colleagues and pass this, and work with law enforcement to get them to again focus on the most urgent needs in the community,” Jawando said.

Hugh Garbrick

Hugh graduated from the University of Maryland’s journalism college in 2020. While studying, he interned at the Queen Anne & Magnolia News, a local paper in Seattle, and reported for the school’s Capital News Service. Hugh is a lifelong MoCo resident, and has listened to the local radio quite a bit.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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