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shot of staff, USA TODAY
Philadelphia will become the first major city in the U.S. to ban police from stopping traffic for minor violations such as a broken backlight when Mayor Jim Kenney signs legislation approved by City Council this week.
In some police administrations, such stops were encouraged as an excuse to search the vehicles of drivers suspected of transporting illicit drugs or weapons. But stop critics say they result in a disproportionate number of stops involving color drivers.
“#DrivingEquality strengthens that public safety can be achieved by methods other than traffic stops,” tweeted council member Isaiah Thomas, author of the law. “Traffic constitutions are traumatic for drivers and scary for police officers. By restricting them, everyone is safer and communities stronger.”
The issue resurfaced at the Brooklyn Center in Minnesota in April when Daunte Wright, A 20-year-old Negro, was fatally shot during the stop gave the initiative for an air freshener hanging on his rearview mirror and car registration marks. Police later tried to arrest Wright for an outstanding warrant and after a brief fight, Wright was shot at close range.
The goal of the Driving Equality Act is to alleviate tensions between police and community members by removing potentially dangerous interactions with minor traffic stops. The law divides violations of the motor vehicle code into “primary violations” that will continue to stop traffic in the interest of public safety, and “secondary violations” that will not.
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“These bills stop traffic that promotes discrimination, while remaining traffic constitutions that promote public safety,” the city council said.
The plan also allows police to divert time and resources to security, while removing “negative interactions that widen the dividing line and perpetuate mistrust,” the statement said.
The legislation was based in part on a review of 309,000 traffic stops using police data collected between October 2018 and September 2019. Former lead defense attorney Keir Bradford-Gray said 72% of stops included black drivers; less than half of city drivers are black. After the stop, black drivers are twice as likely to be searched, but 35% less likely to be found with smuggled items, she said.
The legislation will help remove “targets from the backs of black people,” Bradford-Gray said.
Police and Kenney’s office worked together to draft the legislation. Francis Healy, a special adviser to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, expressed support for the bill and said it would not reduce a police officer’s ability to stop a driver suspected of having committed a crime.
Thomas, who is Black, said his office was flooded with calls from people complaining about humiliation and trauma at traffic stations. Thomas said city street legislation will make it safer and fairer.
“For many people who look like me, a traffic stop is a rite of passage,” Thomas said. “We choose cars, determine routes, plan our social interactions based on the fact that we are likely to be stopped by the police.”
Thomas said he wants his sons and other black children to grow up in a city where stopping is not a rite of passage, but a measure that promotes safety “regardless of the driver’s skin color.”
The bill allows the Philadelphia Police Department 120 days for training and education before it can be implemented. With 14 to 2 votes, he got a lot of approval from the city council. The accompanying bill, which was approved by 15 to 1 votes, requires a searchable public database of traffic stops, which includes information on drivers and police officers, the reasons for the traffic stop and demographic and geographical data.
The data was a major component in illustrating the problem and will be a major factor in analyzing the success of the measure or the need for change, Thomas said.
“Data and life experiences have shown us the problem and data will be key to ensuring that this is done properly,” Thomas said. “The data will tell us whether to stop more traffic stops or change the way we enforce this. The data will also tell other cities that Philadelphia is a leader in this issue of civil rights and can be repeated. “