A new act aims to reduce unnecessary interactions with the police that often go awry.
Philadelphia’s city council passed the Driving Equality Act last month in a 14-2 vote. The law encompasses a set of bills aimed at removing negative police interactions and promoting trust in the police department.
The first bill prohibits police from stopping drivers for seven types of low-level traffic violations. Infractions such as broken lights, bumper issues, minor obstructions and license plates that are not visible are now considered secondary level traffic violations. Primary violations include actions which pose an imminent threat or safety risk to the public and are still subject to traffic stops. All secondary traffic violations remain illegal and will result in citations and fines issued through the mail. The companion bill requires police to record all traffic stop information in a public database.
Mayor Jim Kenney approved the law and issued an executive order on Wednesday, Nov. 3. Kenney followed this with a statement, “This legislation establishes Philadelphia as the first large U.S. city to ban minor traffic stops with the goal of healing police-community relations.” The law is set to go into effect 120 days after the initial signing.
The law is supported by the city’s police department who are dedicated to making the necessary changes to police training. “We believe this is a fair and balanced approach to addressing racial disparity without compromising public safety,” the department said. “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.”
The bill originated as a response to the settlement of Bailey v. City of Philadelphia, a federal class action filed in 2010 on behalf of eight African-American and Latino men who were “stopped by Philadelphia police officers solely on the basis of their race or ethnicity,” according to ACLU Pennsylvania. The lawsuit alleged that Philadelphia police officers are illegally stopping thousands of people to frisk and detain them.
Minor infractions included in the secondary level of the new law have been criticized for acting as a guise for racially motivated traffic stops. “These bills end the traffic stops that promote discrimination while keeping the traffic stops that promote public safety,” the City Council said in a statement.
Black drivers accounted for 72 percent of approximately 310,000 traffic stops in Philadelphia from October 2018 to September 2019 while comprising 48 percent of the city’s population, according to the Defender Association of Philadelphia. This year, Black drivers have accounted for 67 percent of traffic stops while white drivers make up 12 percent. The association has projected that this initiative could result in 300,000 fewer police interactions a year.
Acting chief defender for the Philadelphia based association Alan Tauber described the legislation as a “great first step to building more trust between our police and communities of color.” Tauber added, “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.”