Lesson of the Day: ‘Pulled Over: What to Know About Deadly Police Traffic Stops’

Emily Parkin

5. What is “officer-created jeopardy”? Why does the investigative team argue that we need to go beyond the “final frame” to understand and evaluate whether a police officer was justified in using lethal force?

6. How do financial incentives lead to overpolicing and unfair enforcement of the law, according to the investigation?

7. What questions or perspectives, if any, do you think are missing from the article and Times investigation? What aspects of policing would you like to see the investigation or series explore further?

8. Why do you think The Times started this investigation? What do you think might be the impact of this series? What role do you think investigations like this one, and journalism in general, can play in better policing and the improvement of society?

Share your reflections, thoughts and experiences.

  • What is your reaction to the article and the Times investigation? Does it affect how you view police officers or policing?

  • Reflect upon your own experiences with the police: Is anyone in your family a police officer? Are police officers often present in your school or wider community? What is your relationship with them like? Do you feel protected when there are police officers around? Or do the police make you feel unsafe or threatened? How do your experiences with police officers affect your point of view on the Times investigation?

  • Have you or anyone you know ever been in a vehicle that was pulled over by law enforcement officers? What were the circumstances for the traffic stop? Do you think you were treated appropriately and fairly? What connections, if any, can you make between your experience and the Times investigation?

  • The investigation identifies several factors and causes in deadly traffic stops with unarmed civilians, such as the role of police training, financial incentives, racial bias and the low number of officers punished or found liable for involvement in deadly traffic-stop shootings. What changes, if any, do you think are needed for more effective and just policing and public safety? How can we make American roads safer for drivers and police officers? What possible solutions, reforms and remedies would you recommend?

Additional Teaching and Learning Opportunities

  • Learn more about The Times’s investigation into police traffic stops in America. Read one of the additional pieces in the series and then respond to the following questions in writing or in discussion with a partner: What is one new thing you learned or discovered? How does the article add to or change your understanding of policing and deadly traffic stops? What further questions does it raise for you? What would you want to ask the Times investigative team if you could?

    Behind the Scenes: Police Traffic Stops

    Why Many Police Traffic Stops Turn Deadly

    The Demand for Money Behind Many Police Traffic Stops

  • Learn more about the experience and dangers of “driving while Black.” Read one of these personal essays published in the Times from 2020: “Teaching My Kids to Drive While Black” or “Black Behind the Wheel.” Then, respond to the following prompts in writing or in discussion with a partner: How does reading about the fears and dangers of driving encounters with the police from a personal perspective add to or change your understanding of the issue? What did you find most informative, surprising, moving or memorable from the essay? Can you make any personal connections to the authors’ experiences?

  • Explore further remedies and solutions: In a Guest Essay, “It Is Possible to Reform the Police,” Neil Gross, a professor of sociology at Colby College, writes about how to end the racial disparity in vehicle stops, proposing that we end “pretextual” traffic stops — “stops where a police officer harbors some vague suspicion that a driver may be involved in criminal activity.”

If state legislatures and police departments nationwide were to prohibit pretextual vehicle stops, with the prohibition taken seriously in police training, organizational culture and disciplinary procedures, police officers would be blocked from acting on some of their worst instincts. Banning pretextual stops would free officers to focus their attention on serious traffic safety violations or on stops based on more than a hunch of criminality — a better use of police resources. Since random pretextual stops rarely turn up evidence of serious crime, the effect on crime rates would most likely be minimal, just as the end of “stop and frisk” in New York City did not increase crime there.

In “Police Officers Shouldn’t Be the Ones to Enforce Traffic Laws,” Sarah A. Seo, a professor at Columbia Law School, argues that automated technology and unarmed monitors could do most of the job more efficiently and more safely:

Automated speed cameras and red-light cameras, for example, have proved to be effective in decreasing traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities, precisely because they’re more consistent than human oversight. They also don’t selectively — or discriminatorily — choose to pull over violators. Automating citations for speeding, a major cause of accidents, could significantly reduce police encounters. In New York State, for example, speeding accounts for nearly 20 percent of all traffic citations, according to recent data.

Read one of the Guest Essays in their entirety, and then reflect in writing or discussion with a classmate: How persuasive are the writer’s arguments and proposals? How realistic or practical do you think they are? What counterarguments might be made? What other ideas could you come up with for making traffic stops safer?

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