July 29, 2021

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Austin’s Reimagining Public Safety board suggests creating transportation department

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, a coalition that launched in April, has recommended some big changes to the Austin Police Department.

One in particular brought to the table during an April 20 work session would change policing as we know it.

“It allows our community to see that we don’t need police the way we’ve been told we need police,” said David Johnson, Reimagining Public Safety Task Force member.

Johnson is also involved in an organization called Grassroots Leadership. The task force has suggested traffic enforcement could be run by unarmed servants instead of police officers.

“It’s not a citation whatsoever. It’s a reminder to let you know your tail light is out,” said Johnson.

The idea behind the idea is to prevent minor traffic stops from turning more severe.

Berkeley, California made a similar move in 2020. The city is in the process of forming a new transportation department to handle minor traffic stops like running a stop sign or forgetting to use a turn signal.

“A big misperception of what this looks like is that it doesn’t mean that people get to commit traffic violations and that there is no one paying attention to traffic violations,” said Jordan Blair Woods.

Woods, a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law, also studies criminology. He said traffic stops like DUIs, stolen cars and speeding would still be up to police officers.

“These traffic monitors wouldn’t be empowered to search vehicles or arrest people for criminal offenses,” said Woods. “The traffic stop goes back to its purpose about being about traffic safety.”

The April 20 Reimagining Public Safety workshop was the first time this idea was heard publicly amongst council members and the Reimagining Public Safety Board. The City of Austin does not have plans nor has agreed to implement something like this yet.