The Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission (PLEAC) did not revoke accreditation from the Philadelphia Police Department on Tuesday, but some board members voiced confusion on whether they were voting to grant the department a 90-day waiver or full accreditation retention, leaving questions as to if the issue is firmly resolved.
Several board members told Broad + Liberty under a condition of anonymity that the 10-8 vote was to allow the department the waiver, but that they believed PPD is still not in compliance.
Those board members said that they did not want the rank and file officers to suffer the consequences of losing accreditation based on municipal ordinances that were not in their control.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Danielle Outlaw accompanied Inspector Francis Healy, the department’s legal advisor, to Harrisburg to lobby on the department’s behalf to keep the accreditation, according to PPD spokesperson Sgt. Eric Gripp.
In April, PLEAC sent the Philadelphia Police Department a letter of intent to revoke its accreditation.
As reported last week, PLEAC also sent a similar letter to Pittsburgh regarding concerns over municipal ordinances that it believed would curb enforcement of eight sections of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, such as vehicle safety violations, expired inspections, cracked windshields, improperly affixed license plates, broken tail lights and other violations.
Philadelphia’s ordinance, titled as the “Driving Equality Law” was written by City Council Member Isaiah Thomas, who argued that these types of car stops unfairly target black and Hispanic drivers.
Mayor Jim Kenney signed the Driving Equality bill into law in 2021.
READ MORE — Philadelphia Police Department to lose its accreditation
During Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Outlaw and Inspector Healy argued that PLEAC’s interpretation of the bill was wrong, that it did not order officers to completely ignore these violations.
They argued the law instead simply downgraded the offenses from primary violations (where a stop can be initiated upon observing them) to secondary ones (where they can only be enforced after a stop is initiated based on the observation of another violation, such as speeding or running a stop sign).
Thus, the executive order complies with the Driving Equality law’s goal to reduce car stops, but it doesn’t prohibit enforcement, they argued.
Philadelphia Police spokesman Sgt. Eric Gripp commented: “The City through Executive Order 6-21 has modified enforcement of 8 PA Vehicle Code violations — there is no ban on enforcement. During Tuesday’s meeting, P/C Outlaw and S/I Healy stated our position that since enforcement was not banned, but rather modified, PPD should not be in violation. A vote was called by the PLEAC Board, and the vote was in favor of the PPD’s and City of Philadelphia’s stance.”
The argument was persuasive enough for the PPD to retain its accreditation, although some board members remain unconvinced.
Abington Township Police Chief Patrick Molloy explained, “The ordinance itself is not in compliance with PLEAC standards. This prohibits police officers from the type of proactive policing that results in a reduction of crime and an improvement of quality of life.”
“At a time when police reforms are requiring police departments to be more accountable and professional, this ordinance concedes that police officers are incapable of applying the law without consideration to race, which is why it’s not in compliance with our oath and with accreditation standards,” Molloy concluded.
Representatives from the Pittsburgh Police failed to show up at the meeting, thus a determination based on their accreditation status is still pending. A request for comment from the city of Pittsburgh was met with a “no comment” from Maria Montaño, Mayor Ed Gainey’s Press Secretary.
Molloy also added that since the driving equality law was passed in his neighboring jurisdiction, the number of illegal and/or stolen guns recovered on car stops has doubled.
Max Weisman, communications director for Councilmember Isaiah Thomas who sponsored the Driving Equality Law, contacted Broad + Liberty with a statement following our initial coverage of the possible revocation of accreditation.
“Our bill simply reclassifies eight individual vehicle code violations as secondary violations,” Weisman said. “For example, if a driver is speeding or driving while intoxicated (two violations that are still primary violations), a traffic stop may be used for enforcement.
“If during this traffic stop an officer notices an item hanging in the rear view mirror or an expired emissions sticker (two violations that were primary violations but were reclassified through Driving Equality), the officer may still enforce that violation. It is the same method of enforcement of an officer noticing a driver without a seatbelt — it is a violation that can be enforced but cannot be the primary reason for a stop.”
In addressing what data there was to support Council member Thomas’s claims that these traffic stops targeted black and brown drivers, Weisman wrote that “there was a plethora of data that was included around this bill — data and lived experience is at the heart of Driving Equality”.
He said the Defenders Association of Philadelphia provided their analysis of data from the Philadelphia Police on traffic stops. “While Driving Equality passed the city legislature and was mirror with an Executive Order, we believe it has good standing and would welcome our state partners to mirror this for the entire Commonwealth.”
Weisman further noted that “Driving Equality (and the Executive Order) was passed with a complimentary data bill that will serve as an audit of Driving Equality. We believe in this model but are closely monitoring, alongside a Driving Equality Accountability Group, traffic stops to ensure this bill is in fact achieving its goal (of modifying the stops that promote discrimination while keeping the stops that promote public safety).”
When asked to detail who is on this accountability group — how often do they meet, and how are they recruited for membership — Weisman provided the following WHYY article, reporting that the group “will keep a watchful eye on regulations designed to prevent Philadelphia police from stopping people for minor traffic infractions in the city.”
The group includes Kate Parker of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, Nia Holston of the Abolitionist Law Center, Pastor Carl Day, Villanova Professor Lance Hannon, Devren Washington of the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, Philadelphia neighborhood advocates Nehemiah Devine and Karen Masino.
Thus, Weisman’s link confirmed that there are apparently no members of the board that may offer a diversity in opinion that could, as Weisman suggested, offer oversight to the bill’s effectiveness an impact to public safety.
Had this committee been established independently, with independent input from civilian investigators/auditors from the Inspector General, Controller, or had regular meetings to go over concerns with trained law enforcement officers and/or traffic safety experts from the state police or PennDOT, this may serve to accomplish the goal of oversight.
A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME