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Photo: Mayor Jim Kenney Twitter
Councilmember Isaiah Thomas' Driving Equity Bill is finally law in Philadelphia. Photo: Twitter- Mayor Jim Kenney 

Philly’s first-of-a-kind Driving Equality Bill is now law

The legislation will go into effect in 120 days, and prohibits traffic stops for certain low-level offenses.

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Mayor Jim Kenney officially signed the Driving Equality bill into law on Wednesday, Nov. 3. 

The bill was spearheaded by Councilmember Isaiah Thomas and it passed in October. It seeks to address the agitation between police and community members by removing negative interactions that sometimes occur during minor traffic stops. 

The law will go into effect after 120 days, giving the Philadelphia Police Department time to train on the new protocol. 

“Today I signed an executive order to implement the legislation outlined in the Driving Equality bills, introduced by councilmember Isaiah Thomas. This legislation establishes Philadelphia as the first large U.S. city to ban minor traffic stops with the goal of healing police-community relations,” Kenney tweeted. 

Black drivers, which comprise 48% of Philadelphia's population, accounted for 72% of the nearly 310,000 traffic stops by police officers between October 2018 and September 2019, according to data from the Defender Association of Philadelphia. As of this year, Black drivers account for 67% of stops compared to just 12% of White drivers, the data shows.

Now that the bill is law, the department will work on directive amendments and necessary training. Max Weisman, a spokesman for Councilmember Thomas, said the police department has shown support for the legislation and has negotiated in “good faith.” 

The bill originated from the Bailey pilot program, the result of a 2011 settlement agreement of Bailey v. City of Philadelphia, which requires the police department to collect data on all stop-and-frisks and store it electronically. 

The lawsuit claimed that thousands of Philadelphia residents are illegally stopped, frisked, and detained by police officers. 

Low-level offenses, like registration plate and bumper issues will now be categorized as secondary offenses, which prohibits officers from conducting traffic stops unless there is an additional high-level safety violation, according to the Philadelphia Police department. 

"This modified enforcement model for car stops furthers the Department's priority of addressing the issue of racial disparity in the Department's investigative stops and complements the Department's efforts to address these same issues in pedestrian stops," the department said in a statement. 

"These bills end the traffic stops that promote discrimination while keeping the traffic stops that promote public safety," Thomas’ office said in a press release. 

"This approach seeks to redirect police time and resources towards keeping Philadelphians safe while removing negative interactions that widen the divide and perpetuate mistrust," it continued.

The new legislation does not change the motor vehicle code that drivers are legally required to follow, but those who commit minor infractions now only receive a warning or citation by mail.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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