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Major cities and other areas across the country have implemented changes preventing police officers from pulling people over for minor offenses, sparking condemnation from police unions and experts warning such changes will promote cultures of lawlessness.
“Not only are these good opportunities for officers to interact with the public, these are also very important law enforcement and investigative tools. And what starts as what may be a minor offense, often leads to the discovery of much more serious crimes and the enforcement of laws dealing with much more serious crimes,” Heritage Foundation legal fellow Zack Smith told Fox News Digital of such law changes to who police officers pull over.
Philadelphia was the first major city in the United States that banned police officers from pulling drivers over for minor traffic violations in March. Low-level traffic offenses are ones such as an expired vehicle registration for 60 days or less, a single brake or headlight that is broken, minor bumper damage, or using a car without an official certificate of inspection.
The Philadelphia Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police has since filed a lawsuit to invalidate the law, with union leaders describing the changes as irresponsible.
Known as the “Driving Equality Law,” the Philadelphia legislation was heralded as one that would combat racial profiling and help remedy data showing minorities in the city are 3.4 times as likely to be pulled over as white people.
”This is something that is historic that could put us in a position where we’re addressing an issue that has been plaguing Black communities,” City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who authored the bill, said last year. “Philadelphia is leading the nation when it comes to this particular issue.”
A spokesperson for Thomas welcomed critics of the legislation, such as the FOP and experts at the Heritage Foundation, to take the issue up with his office, and noted that the legislation was supported by the Philadelphia Police Department and other local leaders.
“Representatives from the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the Mayor’s Office, the Philadelphia Police Department and residents across the city have joined these conversations and been valued partners in creating this historic legislation, being replicated in municipalities across the country. Philadelphia Police will now collect data around traffic stops to ensure that we’ve reclassified the traffic stops that promote discrimination and keep the stops that promote public safety,” the councilmember’s spokesman Max Weisman told Fox News Digital.
Philadelphia was not alone in making such changes. Los Angeles implemented a similar law restricting the policing of minor violations this year, while Minneapolis took similar steps last year, as did Ramsey County, Minnesota. In 2021, new legislation for the entire state of Virginia restricted officers from pulling drivers over solely for minor infractions.
Similar to Philadelphia, these changes were made to remedy what activists and local leaders said were racial disparities targeting minority communities.
“If you’re looking for an example of systemic injustice or systemic racism, that’s it,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said when announcing the county will no longer prosecute cases based on traffic stops unrelated to public safety. “This pattern we have in America where we don’t change and we don’t listen to the voices of those who have been impacted.”
The changes followed 2020’s summer of protests and riots following the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis. The protests brought a wave of support for the defund the police and Black Lives Matter movements that stretched from the highest echelons of corporate America down to grassroots organizations.
To Smith, changes to laws restricting police pulling over drivers for minor traffic violations is contributing to the crime increases the U.S. has seen since 2020.
“100% they’re contributing,” Smith told Fox News Digital. “I will place a lot of blame on these rogue prosecutors who are in office in many of these cities. You have DAs in places like Chicago, San Francisco, L.A., Philadelphia … basically saying there are certain crimes that we’re not going to enforce.”
Smith said that when crimes are not prosecuted and laws not enforced, “a culture of lawlessness” is promoted which affects crime rates across the board.
It “also causes police officers to stop arresting for those crimes or investigating those crimes, because what’s the point? Why are they going to waste their limited time and resources arresting or investigating crimes that they know that the district attorney has said he or she is going to prosecute? … It leads to under-enforcement of crime overall,” Smith continued.
Former Philadelphia Deputy Commissioner Joe Sullivan added in an interview with Fox News Digital that laws restricting who officers pull over or not prosecuting crimes such as shoplifting are “absolutely” adding to the crime spike of 2022, describing it as “normalizing deviancy.”
“We’re sending a message that … you don’t have to obey the law. You don’t have to obey police officers. You can pretty much do as you want. And as we head into the warmer weather, I think we’re already having some serious consequences,” Sullivan said, citing Chicago’s recent curfew announcement for minors to help curb crime.
Traffic stops are the most common interaction police have with the public, with officers nationwide making roughly 50,000 traffic stops per day, according to the Stanford Open Policing Project. Fox News Digital also spoke with the Heritage Foundation’s senior legal fellow Cully Stimson, who pointed to a recent “Rogue Prosecutor Symposium” held by the think tank where experts discussed how stops for low-level infractions can often lead to the apprehension of a person who is connected to other more serious crimes.
“If you find people, and you pull them over for a minor traffic infraction and then you find they have a warrant [or] you find out somebody in the car with him has a warrant. And so you want people to enforce the law because by enforcing the law, you end up stumbling into other situations where people have open warrants,” he said.
Stimson and Smith both explained that something as seemingly innocuous as not cracking down on turnstile jumping can embolden criminals. Former United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard Donoghue was among the experts who spoke at Heritage’s “Rogue Prosecutor Symposium” and argued that prosecuting quality of life crimes – like turnstile jumping or low-level drug offenses – is “incredibly important.”
“A lot of cases, significant cases, in New York City history have been made … starting with a turnstile jumping case, right? Because the guy who jumps the turnstile has a gun and the gun is linked to a murder and so on and so forth,” Donoghue said at the symposium. “And so those crimes matter. Enforcement of those crimes matter and the police department knows it.”
Not enforcing such rules “encourages people to be scofflaws,” Stimson added in his comment to Fox News Digital.
“Now you see what’s happening. It’s like a dystopian sort of one of the Batman movies where the Jokers are running the city,” Stimson said. “Because they don’t feel like they even have to do anything, follow any of the rules. And so it … is a sense of lawlessness because the laws don’t matter.”
Violent crimes spiked in 2020 amid the defund and BLM movements and as COVID upended society in unprecedented ways, most notably with murders increasing nearly 30% compared to 2019, FBI data show. By 2021, homicides continued to rise in major American cities across the country, with the Council on Criminal Justice releasing data in January showing a 5% increase in homicides compared to 2020’s wildly bloody year.
Recent data from major cities like Washington, D.C., New York City, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles show violent crimes are on the rise compared to even 2021. New York City, for example, has so far seen the largest increase in violent crimes out of the major cities reviewed by Fox News, with a 40.6% increase compared to 2021.
Smith said that what America has witnessed over the last roughly two years amid the crime spikes is the Ferguson effect, where police pull back from interacting with the community out of fear that if something goes wrong and grabs the attention of the country, officers would not be supported by political leaders and “rogue prosecutors.”
“What we’ve seen over the past few years is not only an effort to defund the police, but really an effort to demonize and demoralize,” Smith said. He added later that “the people who are most impacted when police pull back and stop enforcing crimes as aggressively as they have been in the past … it’s often the people that these policies are supposed to help: minority members of that community.”
Smith argued that people living in poorer communities who bear the brunt of violent crimes benefit the most when police officers are “empowered to do their jobs and force the laws on their books, investigate crimes and make arrests.”