Philadelphia Becomes First US City to Ban Police Traffic Stops for Minor Offenses

by Quentin Blount

Police officers in the city of Philadelphia will no longer be able to pull people over for minor traffic stops. They are the first city in the county to implement such a law.

The Philadelphia City Council has officially passed two bills. One of them will create a searchable database of traffic stops. The other will ban police officers from pulling over drivers for minor motor vehicle offenses, like the improper display of registration, for example. This tactic has disproportionately impacted Black drivers.

City councilman Isaiah Thomas authored the two bills. He first introduced them back on June 24, noting that “Philadelphia is leading the nation when it comes to this particular issue.”

“The way black men are often searched. Specifically here in the City of Philadelphia, when pulled over by law enforcement, puts you in a position where you’re very, very uncomfortable often,” Thomas said. “By removing the traffic stops that promote discrimination rather than public safety, City Council has made our streets safer and more equitable.”

As a black man himself, Thomas says that he has been a part of police stops more times than he can count.

“Being pulled over by law enforcement is a rite of passage for black men. It’s something we all know that we’re gonna have to go through.”

On the other hand, Michael Mellon is a white man who has never been part of a traffic stop. Mellon is the head of the Philadelphia Public Defenders’ Police Accountability Unit. He says that despite frequently driving through areas with a lot of police, he’s never been part of a stop.

“The only real answer we have here is that there’s a racial bias in policing itself,” he said.

97-Percent of Police Stops in Philadelphia Are for Low-Level Violations

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, approximately 97-percent of police vehicle stops in the city are for low-level violations. That means the new Philadelphia law could lead to as many as 300,000 fewer police encounters each year.

Meanwhile, data from councilman Thomas’ office shows that Black drivers in the city accounted for 72-percent of police stops for vehicle code violations over a one-year period. That number is substantial since only 43-percent of the city’s population is Black.

As for the searchable traffic stop database, the city is working to develop that over the next year. It will include driver and officer information, demographic, and geographic information. It will also include the reason as to why each stop was made. Thomas explained that this law will help give the city officials more insight into what’s going on.

“Data will tell us if we should end more traffic stops or amend how this is enforced,” Thomas said. “Data will also tell other cities that Philadelphia is leading on this civil rights issue and it can be replicated.”