Pittsburgh, PA – The Pittsburgh City Council voted 8-to-1 on Tuesday night to pass a bill that will prohibit police officers from stopping vehicles for secondary violations like out of date inspections or broken taillights.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess, who sponsored the bill, said the controversial legislation was created to make traffic stops more “equitable and fair,” the Tribune-Review reported.
Burgess said the goal of the legislation was to reduce the kind of traffic stops that were “more frequent in African American communities.”
In 2020, Pittsburgh Police Department data showed officers conducted 4,650 traffic stops involving black drivers, 4,513 involving white drivers, and just 120 involving Hispanic drivers, according to the Tribune-Review
“We know those stops have the danger of being escalated in Black communities,” Burgess said. “It can have disastrous consequences for both the officer and the resident.”
The legislation referenced a study that found “Black and Hispanic drivers were searched on the basis of less evidence than white drivers,” the Tribune-Review reported.
The text of the bill said its purpose was “to ensure that policing resources are used to protect public safety and not penalize people for being poor, who, in all too many cases, are people of color.”
Burgess said that after the bill is passed, police officers will have to have another primary reason to stop a vehicle and cannot punish drivers who can’t afford to fix something broken on their vehicle or who didn’t have the money to get their vehicle inspected, the Tribune-Review reported.
“For these minor, secondary violations where there is no risk of loss of life or any real danger, we’ll forego those being the primary reason for an officer making a traffic stop,” the councilman said.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Anthony Coghill argued against the passage of the bill and said there had not yet been enough public input to vote on the proposal, the Tribune-Review reported.
Coghill called for a public hearing on the matter and said reducing the number of traffic stops officers made would lead to more unsafe vehicles on the roadways.
“I think it’s important to get a different perspective,” he said before the vote was taken. “We have been anything but transparent. This affects everybody. This demands a public hearing.”
He said there was no data to support limiting the number of traffic stops as a method of preventing violent interactions between drivers and police officers.
The councilman cited statistics that showed that out of 52,000 traffic stops made by Pittsburgh police between 2018 and 2020, only 11 stops ultimately resulted in officers pulling out a Taser or firearm, or using another method of physical restraint, the Tribune-Review reported.
Coghill said that only one Pittsburgh police officer fired his weapon in the same three-year period, and that officer was returning fire after he was shot at by someone in a vehicle.
The vote on the legislation was delayed a week earlier in response to the concerns raised by Coghill, but another delay meant that the bill would have died at the end of the legislative cycle on Dec. 31.
Numerous residents showed up on Dec. 28 to object to the proposed legislation, the Tribune-Review reported.
Sixteen Pittsburgh residents spoke during the public comment period of the meeting and implored the elected officials to hold off on passing the bill.
Several people asked the city council to wait until the newly-elected mayor took office after the first of the year, since Ed Gainey ran his campaign on a police reform platform, the Tribune-Review reported.
Pittsburgh resident Laura Doyle told the council she thought that halting traffic stops for minor infractions would be unsafe for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
“I think it decreases public safety,” Doyle said.
She pointed out that many traffic stops that get made because of smaller, secondary violations lead to police finding drugs or guns inside the vehicle, the Tribune-Review reported.
Pittsburghers for Public Transit Executive Director Laura Wiens didn’t completely oppose the legislation but called for better data collection and a public process before the bill is passed.
Wiens said that bill didn’t do enough and wanted police also to be barred from conducting traffic stops on drivers who failed to use turn signals or had illegal window tint, the Tribune-Review reported.
“This legislation really does not go far enough,” she said.
Ultimately, the council took the vote and Coghill was the only member who voted against it, the Tribune-Review reported.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus told residents afterwards that the passage of the bill didn’t mean there couldn’t be more discussion about it later.
“We can amend, we can rescind, we can improve,” Kraus said.
But Coghill said holding the hearing after the law was passed meant the council didn’t care what the voters thought about it, the Tribune-Review reported.
The new legislation goes into effect 120 days after it was passed.
The Philadelphia City Council passed similar legislation banning lower-level offense traffic stops in November.