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Philadelphia to become first big city in U.S. to ban minor traffic stops

The measure aims to end low-level stops that “promote discrimination rather than public safety,” an official said.

Philadelphia is poised to become the first big city in the nation to ban police officers from making low-level traffic stops after Mayor Jim Kenney signs an executive order this week adopting a so-called “Driving Equality” law.

Kenney’s office said in a statement he’s expected to sign the order Wednesday.

The law, which passed the Philadelphia City Council by a 14-2 vote last month, aims to end stops for violations like broken tail lights and expired inspection stickers — and echoes a similar measure enacted in Virginia in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

Critics have long argued that police use such infractions to target people of color, and they’ve come under scrutiny in recent years after high-profile police killings of people like Walter Scott in South Carolina and Daunte Wright in Minnesota.

The council member behind the law, Isaiah Thomas, said in a statement that the measure was necessary to end traffic stops that “promote discrimination rather than public safety.”

“With this vote, I breathe a sigh of relief that my sons and my friends’ children will grow up in a city where being pulled over is not a rite of passage but a measure of the safety of your driving and vehicle, regardless of the skin color of the driver,” he said.

According to data provided to NBC News by Thomas’ office, 72 percent of Black Philadelphia residents were pulled over by police during a recent 12-month period. Nearly all of those stops were for code violations that didn’t warrant a ticket, Thomas' office said, and guns or illegal drugs were found in less than one percent of the stops.

The new measure, which gives the police department 120 days to train officers before taking effect, turns what had been considered “primary” violations into “secondary” ones. In a statement, the department likened it to a seat belt infraction.

“Essentially, this means that the officer must witness another more high-level safety violation to make a stop and can then only cite the individual or the seatbelt violation during these stops,” the department said. “Officers do not use the seatbelt violation as the primary reason for the stop.”

The statement lauded the legislation — and the process of crafting it — saying the department “truly appreciates the willingness of the councilman and his team to collaborate with PPD and to design this path forward.”

The law, the department noted, will allow officers to enforce infractions in a way that reduces racial inequalities, heals police-community relations and “allows us to protect public safety while simultaneously safeguarding the constitutional rights of our community.”

In a statement to NBC News, Philadelphia police union president John McNesby slammed the law as “terrible” and called it an “all-out effort by local politicians to claim a win on police reform.”

“We simply ask the public to follow all local laws which are written to keep everyone safe,” he said.