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Philadelphia becomes first major city ban cops from making traffic stops for minor violations

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Philadelphia will now become the first major city in the country that bans police officers from making traffic stops for minor, low-level violations like for a broken taillight, or a missing registration sticker.

Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat, signed multiple bills into law that work to stop racial profiling and increase equality by lessening negative interactions with law enforcement officers according to a statement released by Philadelphia’s city council. 

The new law creates an open searchable database recording traffic stops and prohibits police officers from stopping drivers for minor offenses by reclassifying several offenses as secondary violations.

Philadelphia is the first major city to ban low-level traffic stops; the Driving Equity bills became law after being signed by Mayor James Kenney

City councilman Isaiah Thomas authored the two bills which he introduced on June 24 and which will be  signed into law this week

City councilman Isaiah Thomas authored the two bills which he introduced on June 24 and which will be  signed into law this week

It will include driver and officer information, demographic and geographic information, and the reason for each stop. 

Secondary violations citations are issued to drivers by mail, eliminating the need for a low-level traffic stop, which is a tactic commonly used as a pretext to stop and search drivers.  

‘Data and lived experiences showed us the problem and data will be key to making sure this is done right,’ said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who drafted the Driving Equality bills. 

‘Data will tell us if we should end more traffic stops or amend how this is enforced. Data will also tell other cities that Philadelphia is leading on this civil rights issue and it can be replicated.’

The Philadelphia City Council passed two Driving Equity Bills which now await Mayor James Kenney's signature, which is expected to come within the next few days

The Philadelphia City Council passed two Driving Equity Bills which now await Mayor James Kenney’s signature, which is expected to come within the next few days

The bill aimed at ending traffic stops for secondary violations passed in mid-October, 14-2 in Philadelphia’s City Council after data showed that officers in the city were 3.4 times more likely to pull over black drivers than white ones.

 Thomas cited data that was said to show that 72% of drivers pulled over in Philadelphia are black. U.S. Census data shows that black residents, though, make up 42% of the city’s population.

Head of the Philadelphia Public Defenders' Police Accountability Unit Michael Mellon worked with Thomas to draft the bill analyzing police and city data

Head of the Philadelphia Public Defenders’ Police Accountability Unit Michael Mellon worked with Thomas to draft the bill analyzing police and city data

Thomas said he drafted the bills to address the racial inequities and profiling that he has seen and experienced in his city and noted that ‘Philadelphia is leading the nation when it comes to this particular issue.’

Thomas, who is black, says that he has been pulled over more times than he count. 

‘Being pulled over by law enforcement is a rite of passage for black men. It’s something we all know that we’re gonna have to go through,’ Thomas said.

‘The way black men are often searched, specifically here in the City of Philadelphia, when pulled over by law enforcement, puts you in a position where you’re very, very uncomfortable often.’ 

Thomas recounted a time when an officer told him he’d been pulled over for a broken taillight but was told by a mechanic that nothing what wrong with it when he took it to the mechanic the next day.  

A broken taillight is the number one reason given for minor traffic stops, according to Michael Mellon, head of the Philadelphia Public Defenders’ Police Accountability Unit.

But while Thomas has lost count of how many times he’s been pulled over, Mellon, who is white, has never been stopped by police- despite the fact that he frequently drives through heavily policed areas for his job. 

‘The only real answer we have here is that there’s a racial bias in policing itself,’ Mellon said. 

People of color are 3.4 times as likely to be pulled over as white people in Philadelphia

People of color are 3.4 times as likely to be pulled over as white people in Philadelphia

Native American Philadelphians are the most likely minority group to be stopped

Native American Philadelphians are the most likely minority group to be stopped 

94 per cent of all traffic stops in Philadelphia this year happened to people of color

94 per cent of all traffic stops in Philadelphia this year happened to people of color 

Latino drivers are 3.1 times more likely than white drivers to be searched during a traffic stop in Philadelphia

Latino drivers are 3.1 times more likely than white drivers to be searched during a traffic stop in Philadelphia

Although Philadelphia Police have searched fewer of the vehicles they've stopped this year compared to recent years, data shows the racial disparities of these stops have widened

Although Philadelphia Police have searched fewer of the vehicles they’ve stopped this year compared to recent years, data shows the racial disparities of these stops have widened

The data analyzed shows that black people have made up 76.7 per cent of traffic stops so far this year. That equates to more than double their portion of the city population. 

WPVI found that 94 percent of all Philadelphia traffic stops this year were of driver who were people of color. 

Black Philadelphians have a 5.2 times higher chance as white Philadelphians to be pulled over while Native American Philadelphians were 5.7 times as likely as white Philadelphians to be stopped. Latino Philadelphians were recorded to be 1.6 times as likely as white Philadelphians to be pulled over. 

Mellon cited the fact that these pretextual stops are difficult to challenge in court because they were ruled legal by the Supreme Court. But the stops are clearly impacting people of color at alarming rates.

‘The U.S. Supreme Court has given police officers the green light to racially profile people,’ he said.   

The Supreme Court has ruled that traffic stops for minor violations are legal

The Supreme Court has ruled that traffic stops for minor violations are legal 

Officers often take advantage of these unnecessary stops to search people for guns and drugs, critics charged. Black Philadelphians were 2.4 times as likely as white Philadelphians to have their vehicles searched by police while Latino Philadelphians were 3.1 times as likely as white Philadelphians to be searched.

While Philadelphia Police have not searched as many vehicles that they’ve stopped this year compared to recent years, data shows the racial disparities of these stops have widened. 

Thomas and Mellon noted that while people of color are more often stopped and searched, searches of white drivers are more likely to return illegal goods – likely due to the more evidence cited when pulling over white drivers. 

The city councilmember and the head of the Philadelphia Public Defenders’ Police Accountability Unit worked on the Driving Equity bills together to guarantee that they will not create an increase a crime. 

Mellon analyzed Philadelphia Motor Vehicle Code stops and gun violence data which showed no evidence minor traffic stops reduce shootings or traffic fatalities.

But Thomas mentioned that: ‘We see far too often that people of color are involved in these traffic stops with law enforcement, often unarmed, that lead to some type of situation.’

Philadelphia’s Driving Equity bills could lead to as many as 300,000 fewer police encounters each year, the Defender Association told The Inquirer.

The Philadelphia Police Department will be given 120 days for training and education before its implementation. 

Police will still be able to make traffic stops for higher-level violations like speeding.

Philadelphia City Council said in a statement, ‘these bills end the traffic stops that promote discrimination while keeping the traffic stops that promote public safety. 

The new law comes as cases of motorists being shot ‘while driving black’ have made headlines.

Daunte Wright, 20, was fatally shot during a traffic stop in Minnesota for driving with an expired license and having something hanging from his rearview mirror

Daunte Wright, 20, was fatally shot during a traffic stop in Minnesota for driving with an expired license and having something hanging from his rearview mirror 

On April 11, a 20-year-old biracial man was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Daunte Wright was pulled over for driving with expired plates and having an item hanging from the rearview window. 

Once he was stopped, officers discovered that a ‘gross misdemeanor warrant’ had been issued for his arrest related to a 2019 aggravated robbery charge. Officer Kimberly Potter claims that she grabbed her gun mistaking it for her taser and accidentally killed Wright during the traffic stop when Wright tried get back into his car.

In 2016, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man, was fatally shot in his car next to his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter after he was pulled over for a broken taillight, also in Minnesota. 

Video of his death went viral when his girlfriend livestreamed the deadly interaction on Facebook. 

A year before Castile’s death, Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, was found hanged in a Texas jail cell three days after being taken into police custody during a traffic stop for failing to signal a lane change.  

Bland, 28, was found hanging in her cell in a Texas jail in July 2015 three days after her controversial arrest. Her death was ruled a suicide

Bland, 28, was found hanging in her cell in a Texas jail in July 2015 three days after her controversial arrest. Her death was ruled a suicide

Philando Castile, 32, was shot and killed in his car after being pulled over for a broken taillight with his girlfriend and and 4-year-old daughter riding with him in Minnesota

Philando Castile, 32, was shot and killed in his car after being pulled over for a broken taillight with his girlfriend and and 4-year-old daughter riding with him in Minnesota

City of Philadelphia Bill NO. 210636

Secondary Violation. Violations of the following provisions of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, and such other violations as are identified by the Police Department by regulation: 

(a) Title 75 Pa. C.S. § 1301. Registration of Vehicles, when the vehicle had been previously registered within the Commonwealth within sixty days of the observed infraction. 

(b) Title 75 Pa. C.S. § 1310.1 (c). Temporary Registration Permits, where the violation is related to the location of the permit but the permit is otherwise clearly displayed in the rear window. 

(c) Title 75 Pa C.S. § 1332 (a). Display of Registration Plate, where the violation pertains to a plate not securely fastened to the vehicle but such plate is otherwise clearly displayed. 

(d) Title 75 Pa. C.S. § 4302. Periods For Requiring Lighted Lamps, where the violation for lighting equipment not illuminating is limited to a single brake light, head light, or running light; a single bulb in a larger light of the same; or any other single light or bulb of a vehicle light required by 75 Pa. C.S. § 4302. 

(e) Title 75 Pa. C.S. § 4524 (c). Other Obstruction. 

(f) Title 75 Pa. C.S. § 4536. Bumpers. 

(g) Title 75 Pa. C.S. § 4703. Operation of Vehicle Without Official Certificate of Inspection. 

(h) Title 75 Pa. C.S. §4706 (c)(5). Unlawful Operation Without Evidence of Emission Inspection

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