Government / Politics

OPINION: Local crime report still shows an exorbitant and persistent number of traffic stops

HPD’s unwillingness to explain and city council’s failure to conduct oversight into the perplexing number of police traffic stops is a major lapse of governance

Recently, the Hollister Police Department issued its 2016 Violent Crime Report – and both violent and property crimes were down for the third straight year, including the number of adult and juvenile arrests.

In all crime categories, from homicide to auto thefts, the numbers were clearly down. The only exception was robbery – it showed an increase to 25 in 2016 from 19 in 2015.

However, in traffic offenses, especially moving violations, the number of stops remained unacceptably and inexplicably high. In 2015, moving violations reached an unprecedented 2,223. In HPD’s 2016 Crime Report, the number of traffic stops continues to remain unacceptable, and without official credible explanation – at 1,730 stops.

The HPD 2016 Crime Report, however, is incomplete and inadequate — failing to report the number of “bogus” traffic stops, a practice used by police, under questionable legal basis, to stop and interrogate unsuspecting drivers – ultimately released with the issuance of a warning citation. Another practice not reported is the stopping, detention and handcuffing of drivers and passengers (mostly Latino youth), again under questionable legal ground, to conduct background and potential outstanding warrant checks. Finally, the report does not account for the unconstitutional practice of “stop and frisk” (detention and pat down of mostly people of color), which has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in New York.  

As in the 2015 report, both HPD and the city council failed to explore and address, or at the very least offer an official explanation of the dramatic and unusually high number of traffic stops. The increase in stops from 2010 to 2015 rose 260 percent. In 2016, the percent of increase for the same period (2010 at 857 stops) remained high — at 200 percent. These consistently and unprecedented numbers continue to raise the specter of a Ferguson City-type of scheme by city hall, HPD and the municipal court to generate revenue on the backs of its most vulnerable – the elderly, the poor and Latino populations.

The questions remain as they did with the 2015 report – why the astonishingly and unprecedented high number of traffic stops, when overall crime continues to steadily drop?

With the city council’s failure to carry out its oversight responsibility and look into the abnormally high number of traffic stops — and HPD’s unwillingness to offer an official explanation or solution — our elected and appointed officials have failed miserably to inform and assure the general public that they are not being targeted and illegally singled-out. As with the failure of city officials to inform and warn the general public of the dangers of this past summer’s sewage spill, city officials have failed the transparency and trust test – once again. Similarly, when it comes to police traffic stops, the HPD has failed to satisfactorily explain away or offer a solution to these unacceptable, highly-suspicious and constitutionally-questionable violations.

Along the same lines, HPD may think they have the trust of the overall public, but they are very much mistaken. HPD, with its Gestapo look (uniforms) and Apartheid-type tactics and practices, targets communities of a particular social caste and hew.

As with the 2015 Crime Report and unexplained high number of traffic stops – the following questions remain to be asked of the police chief by the city council on the record:

Why the dramatic high number of traffic stops in 2015 and 2016 as compared with 2010?

What are the demographics of those stopped in 2015 (2,223) and 2016 (1,730)?

How much revenue was generated as a result of the issuance of moving violations and non-traffic citations for 2015 and 2016?

What is the current demographic make-up of the HPD police force?

Unless the city council and the HPD answer these most basic of questions, a cloud of suspicion and loss of trust will continue to linger and affect both the effectiveness and leadership of the city council and HPD.  

The time for accountability has come – not only for the city council and city manager, but also the police department.

Moreover, if city politicians fail to conduct oversight hearings regarding the dramatic high number of traffic stops, then the new California State Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, who has made civil rights a hallmark of his administration, needs to conduct an independent investigation into the discriminatory Ferguson-type of discriminatory and targeted traffic stops, generating revenue in Hollister. 

Editors' note: BenitoLink will soon publish video interviews in which Mr. Burguillo and Hollister Police Chief David Westrick separately discuss local law enforcement questions, concerns and successes. They have also agreed to a follow-up discussion/conversation featuring both of them.

Luis Burguillo

As a student of the media and journalism, I am interested in utilizing the medium in order to assure that the residents of the City of Hollister and San Benito County are alerted, informed and educated on the official actions of their elected officials who are sworn to preserve, protect and defend the US constitution and Bill of Rights. More importantly, their engagement in the political process will hold the leaders accountable for their actions/decisions and lead to an improved governance.