Traffic Enforcement: Strategies Needed to Achieve Safety Goals

In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic enforcement by the King County Sheriff’s Office declined, but by mid 2020 returned to a higher level in jurisdictions with officers dedicated to traffic enforcement. This report investigates whether the Sheriff’s Office’s traffic enforcement increases safety and whether there are disparities in how traffic stops are conducted. The authors concluded that although safety is cited as the primary reason for traffic enforcement, the Sheriff’s Office does not assess whether its traffic enforcement atiticies have an impact on safety or aligns with best practice. The authors also provide recommendations to improve data collection and provide more guidance related to traffic enforcement. 

You can read the rest of this report here

Key Findings:

  • Traffic stops are the most common patrol activity by officers; between 2019 and 2021 officers initiated 62,000 stops. 
  • Non-criminal and non-moving  violations make up 90 percent of all traffic stops in King County. 
  • Contract partners with dedicated traffic enforcement units conduct more stops. By 2021, the rate of speeding enforcement by contract partners matched the peak rate of 2019, despite overall declines in traffic enforcement due to COVID-19, changes in law and staffing shortages. 
  • Most King County traffic stops do not lead to arrest; between 2019 and 2021, just 2.4 percent of traffic stops countywide led to criminal arrests, almost half for misdemeanor warrants or driving with a suspended license.
  • Only a few traffic stops resulted in use of force, but of those that did white officers were more likely to use force on Black drivers than drivers of other races. 
  • The Sheriff’s Office does not have defined traffic safety-related strategies, objectives, and traffic enforcement policy is fragmented within the office and between contract partners.


  • Identify traffic enforcement objectives, implement strategies for meeting those objectives, and use data to track progress. 
  • Ensure that traffic safety objectives and strategies are in alignment with county goals.
  • Collect perceived demographic data for each traffic stop.
  • Consider alternative approaches to traffic enforcement that emphasize safety and equity. 
Justin Anderson, Grant Dailey, and Brooke Leary
King County Auditor's Office