COLUMBUS — A Democratic state lawmaker wants to make the failure to display a front license plate on vehicles a secondary offense.
Sen. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) told the Ohio Senate’s Transportation, Commerce and Labor Committee Thursday that the proposal would require additional traffic offenses for officers to stop drivers.
“Unfortunately, some officers in the urban core are selective in their enforcement of the license plate requirement,” Thomas said. “Some engage in profiling by using such minor equipment violations as a pretext for other investigatory stops in violation of the search and seizure rules of the U.S. Constitution.”
SB 202 had its first hearing Thursday. It would have to be moved by lawmakers in coming days or be reintroduced in the next general assembly for further consideration.
The bill is named the “DuBose Was A Beacon Act,” after Samuel DuBose, a black man who was shot by a white University of Cincinnati police officer in July 2015 during a traffic stop prompted by a missing front license plate. Ray Tensing has been charged with murder in the case.
SB 202 would prevent officers from stopping drivers solely for a failure to display a front license plate, making the offense a secondary infraction, similar to the law requiring seatbelt usage.
The maximum fine for resulting citations would be $25, under the bill.
Thomas, who worked as a Cincinnati police officer for 27 years, said Thursday he understood why law enforcement agencies support Ohio’s two license plate requirement. But he said the state’s existing law is seldom enforced.
“I can’t recall ever in my 27-year career issuing a citation for one plate,” he said. “Most of my law enforcement colleagues in the urban core would agree that it’s very limited in its enforcement. I am of the opinion that unenforced laws should be removed from the books.”
Too often, Thomas said, black drivers are stopped for license plate offenses by officers suspecting other offenses.
“I know firsthand of officers using the pretext of an African American, driving a nice car, in or through a depressed neighborhood, having only one plate like many citizens, as a reason for a stop, believing the driver is a drug dealer,” he said. “It is these types of stops that erode good community/police relations, foster tension and distrust resulting in unnecessary citizen’s complaints.”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.