Philadelphia is set to pass legislation that bars its cops from pulling drivers over for minor traffic violations — like broken tail lights and bumper issues — becoming the first major city to do so.
The Driving Equality Bill, passed earlier this month by the City Council by a 14-2 margin, could be signed by Mayor Jim Kenney as early this week, according to CNN. The package of bills would classify vehicle registration infractions, broken brake lights and flouting inspection evidence regulations as “secondary” violations, meaning police would be prohibited from pulling motorists over if those traffic infractions are observed.
Cops would still be able to stop drivers for more serious “primary violations.”
The measure is aimed at easing tensions between police and black Philadelphians, who are more likely to be stopped by police, according to a data analysis by the Defender Association of Philadelphia. Black drivers, who make up 48 percent of Philadelphia’s population, were pulled over in 72% percent of the roughly 300,000 police officers traffic stops between October 2018 and September 2019, according to the group.
Isaiah Thomas — a City Council member in Philadelphia who is black — told CNN’s Michael Smerconish he’s been pulled over “well over 20 times” during his two decades behind the wheel.
“We want to put law enforcement in a position where they can spend more time focusing on more serious crimes,” he said on his program. “In the city of Philadelphia, we ask law enforcement to do a lot and we feel that this bill is a step in the right direction, not just to improve relations between communities of color and law enforcement but also to put us in a position where law enforcement can focus more time on more serious crimes.”
Dennis Jay Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, cautioned there are benefits and drawbacks to removing cops’ ability to pull drivers over for relatively minor traffic infractions.
“The danger of not eliminating them is that it drives a wedge between the public and the police,” Kenney told CNN. “If you’re tired of driving while Black, you’re less likely to cooperate during these stops.”
“The risk in the other direction, in the case of traffic safety, is that we prohibit some behavior and require you to have taillights because it’s safer, people can more readily stop behind you,” he added. “So, by saying these violations no longer matter, then to the extent that they impact public safety, then public safety will be negatively impacted.”