The law, which passed Philadelphia’s city council last month by a 14-2 vote and has the support of the city’s police department, designates seven low-level violations for which traffic stops are prohibited, including bumper issues, minor obstructions, broken lights and a license plate that is not visible or clearly displayed.
“This legislation establishes Philadelphia as the 1st large U.S. city to ban minor traffic stops with the goal of healing police-community relations,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement, noting he’d signed an executive order implementing the city’s “driving equality” bills.
The low-level violations are still illegal, according to the law, but fines or citations will be issued by mail. Police will still be empowered to pull over drivers for so-called “primary violations” of traffic laws that endanger public safety. The law is set to go into effect in 120 days.
The bill was informed by the development of the Bailey pilot program, a result of the 2011 settlement agreement of Bailey v. City of Philadelphia, which requires the police department to collect data on all stop-and-frisks and store it in an electronic database. The lawsuit alleged that thousands of people in Philadelphia are illegally stopped, frisked and detained by police officers.
With the passing of the law, Philadelphia police will work on directive amendments and necessary training. The police department has exhibited support for the bill and has negotiated in “good faith,” according to Max Weisman, a spokesperson for the author of the bill, Councilmember Isaiah Thomas.
“We believe this is a fair and balanced approach to addressing racial disparity without compromising public safety,” the department said in an earlier statement. “This modified enforcement model for car stops furthers the Department’s priority of addressing the issue of racial disparity in the Department’s investigative stops and complements the Department’s efforts to address these same issues in pedestrian stops.”
Minor infractions such as broken taillights, the smell of marijuana, improperly displayed registration stickers or hanging items from a car’s rearview mirror have been criticized as a pretext for racially motivated traffic stops.
Black drivers, who comprise 48% of Philadelphia’s population, accounted for 72% of the nearly 310,000 traffic stops by police officers between October 2018 and September 2019, according to data from the Defender Association of Philadelphia. As of this year, Black drivers account for 67% of stops compared to just 12% of White drivers, the data shows.
Alan Tauber, the acting chief defender for the Defender Association for Philadelphia, said the legislation is a “great first step to building more trust between our police and communities of color,” adding, “We’re hopeful that passage of the Driving Equality Bill is just the beginning of informed and meaningful conversations about positive changes to our justice system that will benefit all Philadelphians.”
Similar practices has been sought in other areas
While Philadelphia is the largest city in the United States to ban such traffic stops, other local and state governments have also enacted similar policies.
In September, Ramsey County, Minnesota, announced prosecutors will no longer pursue cases against people who are unfairly targeted and detained during non-public safety stops. The new policy comes five years after former St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot Philando Castile seven times during a traffic stop in 2016 over a broken tail light, prosecutors said. In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey announced in August that the city’s police officers will no longer conduct pretextual traffic stops for low-level offenses as part of his 2022 budget proposal. Officers are prohibited from making pretextual stops for “expired tabs, an item dangling from a mirror, or an expired license,” according to a city news release. In March, Virginia became the first state to prohibit these stops within three months of the bill’s introduction. Law enforcement officers cannot lawfully stop motorists for driving without a light illuminating a license plate, without brake lights or a high mount stop light, and with certain sun-shading materials and tinting films, according to the legislation.
“The bill also provides that no law-enforcement officer may lawfully stop, search, or seize any person, place, or thing solely on the basis of the odor of marijuana,” the Virginia bill states.
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