Philadelphia will become the first major U.S. city to ban police from making traffic stops for minor violations such as a broken tail light when Mayor Jim Kenney signs City Council-approved legislation as soon as this week.

Such stops have been encouraged in some police departments as a pretext to search vehicles of drivers suspected of carrying illegal drugs or weapons. Critics of such stops claim they lead to a high number of stops that involve drivers of color.

“#DrivingEquality reinforces that public safety can be achieved with other methods than traffic stops,” Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, the bill’s author, tweeted Sunday. Traffic stops can be scary for officers and drivers. Their reduction makes everybody safer, and the community stronger.

In April, the issue was again raised in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota when Daunte Wayne Wright, a Black 20-year old man was shot to death during an arrest for expired registration plates and air freshener hangin’ from his rearview mirror. Wright was later shot by officers after they attempted to arrest Wright on an outstanding warrant.

A goal of the Driving Equality Bill is to ease tension between police and community members by removing negative interaction through minor traffic stops. The law divides motor vehicle code violations into “primary violations” that will continue to draw traffic stops in the interest of public safety and “secondary violations” that won’t.

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City Council released a statement saying that the bills would end traffic stops which promote discrimination and keep traffic stops that promote safety for the public.

The plan also allows police to redirect time and resources toward safety while removing “negative interactions that widen the divide and perpetuate mistrust,” the statement said.

The legislation was driven in part by an examination of 309,000 traffic stops using police data collected between October 2018 and September 2019. Former Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey said 72% of the stops involved Black drivers; fewer than half the city’s drivers are Black. According to her, Black drivers will be twice as likely to get searched after the stop but they are 35% more likely to have contraband.

Bradford-Grey stated that the legislation would help to remove the “targets from the backs” of Black people.

The police department and Kenney’s office were involved in crafting the legislation. Francis Healy, special advisor to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, has expressed support for the bill and said it would not impair an officer’s ability to stop a driver suspected of committing a crime.

Thomas, who happens to be Black, stated that his office had been flooded by calls from individuals complaining about humiliation at traffic stops. Thomas said the legislation will make the city’s streets safer and more equitable.

Thomas stated, “To many people like me, traffic stops are a right of passage.” “We choose cars and routes. We plan social interactions around knowing that police will likely pull us over.”

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Thomas said he wants his sons and other Black children to grow up in a city where being pulled over is not a rite of passage but a measure driving safety “regardless of the skin color of the driver.”

This bill grants the Philadelphia Police Department 120 working days to complete training and education. With a vote of 14-2, the City Council approved it with overwhelming support. A companion bill, approved by a 15-1 vote, mandates a public, searchable database of traffic stops that includes driver and officer information, reason for conducting traffic stop as well as demographic and geographic information.

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Thomas stated that data was an important component of illustrating the problem. It will also be a key factor in analysing the success or failure to alter the bill.

“Data and lived experiences showed us the problem and data will be key to making sure this is done right,” Thomas said. “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.”


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