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Mecklenburg County sheriff eliminates stops for broken tail lights, expired plates

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden
Logan Cyrus
/
for WFAE
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office has instructed deputies to stop pulling drivers over for minor non-moving offenses, such as broken tail lights, improperly tinted windows or expired license plates.

The new policy took effect Sept. 19, and is intended to address racial disparities in traffic stops, the sheriff's office said in a news release.

Sheriff's deputies can still cite drivers for non-moving offenses, but only after stopping drivers for a more serious traffic violation, like speeding or running a red light.

Other examples of low-level, non-moving offenses deputies will no longer stop drivers for include driving with a revoked license, improper mufflers, overcrowded vehicles or failure to clean registration plates. The policy does not apply to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officers, who make the majority of traffic stops in Mecklenburg County.

Deputies are still allowed to pull over drivers for having stolen or fake license plates, violating the state's mandatory seatbelt law or texting while driving.

According to the release, Sheriff Garry McFadden, a Democrat, enacted the policy after meeting with local advocacy groups Forward Justice and the Mecklenburg County chapter of the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance.

The sheriff's office says the groups presented data from NCcopwatch.org that showed Black drivers are more likely to be stopped for traffic violations than white drivers, and that eliminating stops for low-level traffic infractions could minimize unnecessary and potentially harmful interactions Black drivers might face when pulled over by law enforcement.

Black drivers are more than twice as likely to be pulled over than white drivers, according to an analysis of North Carolina traffic stops between 2009 and 2019 published by the state in 2020.

The state analysis also found roughly 40% of traffic stops in North Carolina were speed limit violations, and 29% were regulatory or equipment violations.

The sheriff's office said it worked with Forward Justice attorneys to develop, draft and adopt the new policy, and that all deputies will be required to acknowledge receipt of the new rules, and pass an exam testing their knowledge of the changes.

"It is the intention of this new policy to encourage Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Deputies to focus on the most serious and potentially dangerous traffic offenses" McFadden said in the statement. "MCSO also wants to be intentional in ensuring that none of our policies or practices contribute to disproportionality in our criminal justice system and I am confident that our community will be better served as a result."

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Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal