PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas has declared his driving equality law a success, even though it hasn’t worked quite the way he’d hoped.
Exactly one year ago, the groundbreaking legislation, designed to reduce racial disparity in Philadelphia traffic stops, went into effect. It was meant to eliminate police stops for eight minor offenses that disproportionately affected Black drivers — such as one broken tail light, items dangling from the rearview mirror, bumper damage, missing inspection or registration stickers, or an improperly placed license plate.
Police Department data released Friday shows a reduction in traffic stops but not in racial disparity. In the law’s first eight months, Thomas said, traffic stops overall went down 11%, and stops for those minor offenses went down 54%. In addition, 12,000 fewer Black drivers were stopped.
“I consider the legislation a success,” he said.
However, Thomas had hoped to end racial disparities in police stops, and the data shows stops for white drivers decreased by 64% — more than they did for Black drivers. In other words, Black drivers are still more likely to be pulled over. Thomas says that’s a flaw that he hopes to address.
Police stops for more serious infractions, such as running a red light, increased by 19%. In addition, police officers recovered more illegal firearms in the reduced number of stops than in the previous year.
Chief Public Defender Keisha Hudson summed it up this way: “This legislation has had a significant impact in cutting down racialized, pretextual stops and has had zero negative impact on public safety.”
Earlier this month, Thomas criticized mayoral candidate Jeff Brown for telling voters he would consider repealing the law if elected. Brown later clarified he had some concerns about the effects of the law, but that he did not mean to say he would repeal it entirely.
“The reality is the work is just starting,” Thomas said.
A dozen other cities have adopted similar measures, including Memphis, Tennesee, where Tyre Nichols, who was Black, died three days after police stopped his car and subdued him. Memphis Councilmember Michalyn Easter-Thomas, who introduced the legislation, says it is based on Philadelphia’s driving equality law.