ST. LOUIS – When traffic enforcement disappears, injury collisions will rise. This fact does not surprise law enforcement professionals who are familiar with driving habits and the correlation between crashes and the number of hazardous traffic citations that are issued.
Yet the city of St. Louis is learning this fact the hard way as vehicle fatalities have doubled over a period of more than 10 years while officers are making far fewer traffic stops.
Like many other major urban cities, St. Louis has been rocked by civil unrest following lightning rod encounters. They had one involving Officer Jason Stockley and Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011, followed by the more infamous case of justifiable deadly force involving Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. And then there was the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, which has permanently changed the criminal justice landscape in the U.S.
Hence, the city of St. Louis has encountered a string of protests and riots during the past decade due to the above mentioned occurrences as well as others.
Political activists and radical reformers have been demanding that law enforcement officers nationwide reduce enforcement related contacts with offenders. Many cities and agencies have formally acquiesced by changing policies and directives. Others have tacitly followed as officers have experienced the “Ferguson effect” and are reluctant to get involved unless it’s absolutely necessary.
As a result, officers in St. Louis have pulled back on traffic enforcement. It’s also become clear that police no longer chase a broad category of offending vehicles, which promotes drivers to flee from law enforcement when signaled to pulling over.
The results show that deadly collisions — not to mention crashes involving serious injuries — are more rampant.
In 2009, St. Louis police officers initiated 85,000 traffic stops, issued 35,000 traffic citations, and made 3,400 traffic-related arrests. Now those numbers have nearly been cut in half, the Washington Examiner reported.
In 2021, St. Louis police made just 45,000 traffic stops, issued fewer than 18,000 tickets, and made just 1,300 arrests.
Consequently, traffic fatalities have doubled in St. Louis over that stretch of time, according to the news outlet.
In 2009, there were about 40 traffic deaths. Yet that figure more than doubled to 81 in 2021.
Hence, it turns out that when you stop enforcing traffic laws, people drive more dangerously. Therefore, more people die. And that isn’t the only damage done by neglect to enforce laws. It perpetuates the belief that all things are tolerable.
“As a general rule, the public rightly wants to see laws on the books enforced, because if they’re not enforced, that generates the perception that you can commit crime with impunity,” University of Missouri-St. Louis criminology professor Richard Rosenfeld told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Any kind of enforcement is associated with a level of risk, since people who commit public offenses can also choose to resist authority. Nevertheless, the costs of not enforcing laws are very real. St. Louis is just one of many urban cities discovering this reality.