Philly city council bans police stops for minor traffic violations, claiming it will help ‘racial equity’

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PHILADELPHIA, PA – According to reports, the Philadelphia City Council overwhelmingly approved a bill earlier in October prohibiting police from stopping cars for minor traffic infractions such as a broken brake light.

The passage of said bill was reportedly inspired by data that showed black drivers were being pulled over at a disproportionate rate when compared to white or Latino drivers.

On October 14th, the measure to ban minor traffic stops in Philadelphia was approved following a 14-2 vote by the city council.

Having been partially inspired by data showing black drivers were being pulled over disproportionately for minor stops, the bill gained further traction when that same data showed only a fraction of these stops result in an officer seizing contraband – such as illegal firearms.

A list outlining some of the minor offenses drivers won’t be pulled over for – if the bill is signed by the governor – includes:

  • Driving with a single broken brake light
  • Having a loud muffler
  • Driving without an inspection or emissions sticker
  • A registration plate that is not clearly displayed, secured, or visible
  • Issues with the vehicle bumper
  • Driving with one headlight
  • Driving without a vehicle registration within 60 days of the initially observed infraction

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who introduced the effort back in October of 2020, had the following to say in light of the bill’s passage:

“I’m confident that this bill will be able to address some of the equality issues that we’ve faced in the city of Philadelphia. I think it will put us in a position where hopefully we’ll see significantly less stops as it relates to these types of traffic violations.”

Now this doesn’t mean drivers on the road get a proverbial free pass for certain minor traffic violations – this is merely modifying how those matters are enforced.

Instead of someone being immediately pulled over for a faulty brake light, or something of that nature, they’ll instead be sent either a warning or citation in the mail.

Francis Healy, special advisor to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, signaled Philadelphia Police’s support for the bill, explaining that this isn’t going to be the end of all traffic stops:

“This is not stopping police officers from making legitimate public safety stops. If I have a reasonable suspicion or probable cause you’re involved in criminal activity, I can make the stop.”

Outside of the equity aspect that inspired the bill, other benefits of it being passed pertain to freeing up officers’ time to pursue more meaningful stops that behoove the general public from a safety standpoint.

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Officials in Philadelphia were treating the passed bill regarding minor traffic stops as being an almost trailblazing effort – alleging that this effort was essentially first of its kind.

However, such laws have been in the works elsewhere in the country since 2020. 

Back in October of 2020, we at Law Enforcement Today shared a report where the state of Virginia enacted similar legislation. Here’s that previous report. 

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Virginia passes legislation stopping police from making wide array of traffic stops. Law and order is dead.

(Originally published October 5th, 2020)

RICHMOND, VA – Pretextual stops are on the chopping block in the state of Virginia.  The state wishes to severely handcuff its police forces.

Recently, the State of Virginia has begun pushing forth new legislation which would prohibit officers from making what is termed as a pretextual stop.  Pretextual stops are when an officer uses a mundane traffic violation to stop a vehicle because he or she believes there may be criminal activity afoot.

For instance, an officer may see a tag light out on a vehicle driven by a little old lady coming out of Walmart.  That officer probably is not concerned that the woman driving is a criminal.  However, spotting the tag light out on a vehicle that is coming out of a high crime area, the officer will make the stop to determine if criminal activity is afoot.

Now, the Virginia State lawmakers want to take that away from the police, in effect, killing a lot of proactive policing that keeps communities safe.  Why?  Because the idiot lawmakers in the state feel that police are using it in some manner to attack black people.  Democratic State Senators Patrick Hope and Louise Lucas presented the bill.  Hope said:

“A disproportionate number of people pulled over for minor traffic offenses tend to be people of color, this is a contributor to the higher incarceration rate among minorities.”

Now, a reasonable person would start to dig into the weeds on this claim, and see if the people who were stopped, regardless of race, actually committed criminal offenses, thus, ending up in jail.  If blind to race, if the answer is yes, then the system works.

If, blindly, the people did not commit criminal violations, then they may have a point. 

But, since they are speaking of incarceration rates, we can assume that they speak of people who committed criminal offenses, and why anyone would worry about a criminal being arrested is beyond reason.

And yet, here we are, with a bill passed and sent to the desk of Democratic Governor Ralph Northam. 

When, if, this bill is signed into law by Northam, it will bar officers from stopping vehicles for broken or loud exhaust, non-functioning brake and tail lights, objects obscuring the drivers view, tinted windows, and a state inspection which is less than four months past its expiration date.

These violations would become a secondary offense, meaning that police officers would no longer be able to stop someone who has committed these violations.  However, if the officer effects a traffic stop for something else, then the officer could issue a citation for these offenses.

The law would also prevent officers from searching a vehicle when they smell, based on training and experience, the odor of marijuana coming from within the vehicle or person.  While this is already starting to happen with the legalization of the drug, there have been provisions to allow for these probable cause searches if the occupant denies having a medical marijuana card in some states. 

These changes have been met with Republican resistance, who have called these democratic efforts at so called police reform to be an attack on law enforcement.  State Senator Bill DeSteph from Virginia Beach said:

“I feel we’re villainizing our police departments.”

Others, like Roanoke Police County Police Chief Howard Hall said:

“Does anybody really think that it’s appropriate or safe for a vehicle on Interstate 95 to be travelling without tailights at 11 at night?  Does anybody not think that law enforcement should deal with that situation?”

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Seattle inspector general sends police chief a letter “urging” SPD to eliminate traffic stops for minor violations

(Originally published May 22nd, 2021)

SEATTLE, WA- In a recent letter to Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, the city’s inspector general stated that Seattle police should “strongly consider” eliminating traffic stops for minor, civil, and non-dangerous violations.

According to reports, Seattle Inspector General Lisa Judge stated that such stops should be “discontinued for the safety of both officers and the public and for racial fairness.”

As inspector general, Judge is charged by law with helping to ensure the fairness and integrity of the police system in its delivery of law enforcement services. In her letter, Judge wrote that traffic stops should be limited to offenses that create a danger to the public.

Examples of this include reckless driving, DUI, school zone violations, and other similar circumstances.

Judge framed her “recommendation” as a “request,” but then went on to argue that routine traffic stops for minor civil offenses, such as an expired license tabs or a burned-out taillight can at times result in unnecessary deaths, both to motorists and police officers.

In her letter, Judge cited the recent cases of 20-year-old Daunte Wright who was fatally shot by police during a traffic stop and Darian Jarrot, a New Mexico state police officer who was fatally shot during a traffic stop by a driver with an assault rifle. She wrote:

“Many in law enforcement acknowledge traffic stops are inherently dangerous, with officers approaching unknown persons, often in darkened vehicles, sometimes in remote areas, without knowing whether that person may try to harm them to avoid being arrested.”

She added:

“Many in the community believe traffic stops are inherently dangerous for different reasons, especially for people of color.”

Judge wrote that traffic stops for minor violations are a “significant infringement on civil liberty” and should be reserved for cases when a person is engaged in criminal conduct that harms others. She wrote:

“Stops for government-created requirements like car tabs, with nothing but a potential monetary penalty, do not justify the risk to community or to officers.”

She stated in her letter that routine traffic stops are the most common form of face-to-face interactions between police and the community and can impact how community members form negative opinions of the police, which can in turn influence public trust in the department. She wrote:

“Moreover, research has consistently shown that black and Latino experiences during traffic stops are different from those of white persons.”

She added:

“I have discussed these issues with others in city leadership and I believe there is support for exploring alternatives to traffic enforcement in ways that do not involve routine stops for minor violations.”

In her letter to Diaz, she stated that she welcomes the opportunity to “discuss this critical community matter” with him further. 

PubliCola reported that the Seattle Police Department is not required to act on Judge’s letter, nor is the letter a fully formed policy proposal. Judge’s office will need to conduct additional research into best practices if they plan to phase out low-level traffic stops. 

Judge told PubliCola that she believes the issues raised in her letter require an urgent response. She said in a statement:

“Rather than taking to time for a painstaking audit, we have a practice of sending an ‘alert letter’ to SPD to get the ball rolling quickly.”

Reportedly, this is not the first issue Judge has flagged for the Seattle Police Department. In February, her office sent letters to Diaz urging him to clarify his department’s vehicle pursuit guidelines and to reconsider how his officers respond to people experiencing mental health crises while carrying knives.

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