Published: January 05, 2022

Stevens calls city’s limit on traffic stops ‘a positive first step’


Pittsburgh City Council’s recent vote to prohibit police officers from pulling over drivers for secondary violations was called “a positive first step, but only ... a first step” by one of the city’s leading civil rights organizations.

Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project, said council needs to use the next four months — the time it will take the bill to go into effect — “to gain more input from community partners and interested individuals, as well as providing the opportunity for significant input and hopefully, ‘buy in’ from the Gainey administration, as well as providing sufficient time for the introduction of how this new legislation will be adopted and implemented by officers of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.”

On Dec. 28, City Council, in an 8-1 vote, moved to limit secondary violation enforcement, which would no longer give officers the ability to stop drivers for things such as a broken tail light, the location of a registration plate or an out-of-date inspection certification.

The vote was the result of an effort sparked by a desire to combat racial disparities. On the day of the vote, council members cited reports and articles asserting that traffic stops — “by far the most common police encounters with civilians,” according to a New York Times story they named — suffer from racial bias and target Black and Hispanic drivers on the basis of less evidence than white drivers.

The bill takes effect in 120 days, council members said, to give the public time to respond, incoming Mayor Ed Gainey the opportunity to review the bill and the police bureau the time to train its officers.

In the wake of the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd during a traffic stop outside Minneapolis, which prompted global protests seeking social and racial justice, Mr. Stevens said he was glad that calls to end such stops “did not fall on deaf ears” but said council could consider doing more.

“We look forward to future public post-agenda hearings on this legislation, and an openness on the part of Pittsburgh City Council to adopt new and creative ways to possibly expand reductions in traffic stops, including a serious review of such efforts taking place in Philadelphia, as well as considering how to better address and reduce street ‘stop and frisks’ which have disproportionately impacted Black and brown citizens of Pittsburgh.”

The text of the bill notes that other municipalities have “begun changing their enforcement policies to ensure that policing resources are used to protect public safety and not to penalize people for being poor, who, in all too many cases, are people of color.”

According to an annual report from the city’s Department of Public Safety, there were 9,912 individuals in Pittsburgh involved in traffic stops in 2020. Of those, 3,238 were Black men and 1,405 were Black women; while 2,984 were white men and 1,529 were white women. About 650 stops led to an arrest, the report showed.