Mar 3, 2022 - News

Philadelphia's ban of minor traffic stops takes effect

Illustration of an equals sign painted in yellow on the road.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Philadelphia police can no longer pull drivers over for certain minor traffic offenses under a law taking effect today that aims to reduce racial profiling.

Why it matters: Philadelphia police stop Black drivers for minor traffic violations at disproportionately higher rates compared to white and Latino drivers.

  • "There's a generation of [Black] Philadelphians who view being pulled over by law enforcement as a right of passage," Councilmember Isaiah Thomas said. "Unfortunately, that's the norm."

By the numbers: The Defender Association of Philadelphia examined more than 309,530 traffic stops from police data between October 2018 and September 2019.

  • The association found that Black drivers comprised 72% of those pulled over for alleged traffic violations despite making up 43% of the city's population.
  • Plus: Less than 1% of these types of traffic stops resulted in recovery of contraband or weapons.

Context: The Philly City Council passed the Driving Equality Bill in October, banning police from conducting traffic stops for certain "secondary" offenses, like driving with a broken tail light.

  • Under the law, which was crafted with the Kenney administration and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, police can still stop for "primary" violations like speeding and rolling stops.

What they're saying: Thomas told Axios this bill is just the beginning.

  • "Two years ago, people set this city on fire and wanted to see some changes as it relates to how communities of color are policed," he said. "We're trying our best to put a positive dent on a negative relationship between communities of color and law enforcement."

David Fisher, president of the local chapter of the National Black Police Association, said he supports reforms in light of the "George Floyd era," but is concerned this bill will compromise public safety.

  • "I can't support a bill that puts more stress on the citizens of the city, and I don't think that was considered," Fisher said.

Fisher worried it could lead to more uninsured vehicles on the road, as there's less of an incentive to get coverage, and potentially drive up rates.

  • Thomas called these concerns "tactics" aimed at instilling fear.

Of note: Philadelphia police are required to track car stop information under another law introduced by Thomas. The data will be used to evaluate the law's efficiency.

What to watch: Philadelphia's police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, sued the city last week, claiming the measure violates state law.

  • FOP Lodge 5 declined an interview with Axios.

A city spokesperson told Axios that the FOP "distorts the text and purpose" of the law.

  • The city said the suit won't impact the ban's implementation Thursday.

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