Pittsburgh City Council endangers public safety

Pittsburgh City Council endangers public safety

The new year begins with a piece of imprudent legislation from Pittsburgh City Council. It is yet another example of government proffering a “solution” for a “problem” that does not exist.

Effective 120 days from Dec. 28, Pittsburgh Police will be barred from stopping vehicles primarily for secondary traffic violations considered to be minor in nature.

That would include such infractions as having a burned-out brake or headlights or improperly placed (but still visible) license plates or temporary tags.

Neither will police be able to pull someone over for an expired registration, inspection sticker or emissions sticker (expired for less than two months).

The council’s primary rationale for this basic abrogation of fundamental police work and violating state motor vehicle laws? By a vote of 8-1, councilors argued that it will, as the Tribune-Review reported it, “address a disproportionate number of traffic stops involving people of color” and “could reduce the likelihood of traffic stops escalating to violent incidents.”

To supposedly buttress the claim of “disproportion,” police data were cited showing 4,650 traffic stops involving black motorists in 2020, 4,513 involving white motorists and 120 involving Hispanic or Latino motorists.

To further “support” the claim, it is cited that about 23 percent of Pittsburgh residents are black, about 3 percent are Hispanic or Latino and 65 percent are white.

Of course, missing from this hardly compelling case for abandoning this basic tenet of policing – public safety — is a salient but undocumented possibility that such smaller cohorts of the overall population perhaps have a higher incidence of the listed infractions.

Again, never mind that police stops for such infractions are a matter of basic public safety, the new hands-off policy also is in no way supported in Pittsburgh by the contention that such stops, by rote, escalate and lead to violence.

As Councilman Anthony Coghill noted – and, again, as reported by the Trib — from 2018 through 2020, Pittsburgh police conducted about 52,000 vehicle stops. Of them, only 11 resulted in police pulling out a taser or firearm or using another method of physical restraint.

And Coghill said that in only one instance did an officer fire his gun. But that was only after someone in the vehicle fired at him.

What percent is 11 of 52,000, class? Try 0.02 percent.

And that “disparity” between white and black traffic stops (when considering the raw number) for the aforementioned violations amounts to a 2.99 percent difference.

Are we really to the point in our modern public policy debates that all races should be stopped at the exact same rate and/or in perfect proportion to their ratio of the population?

What’s next, “equity” and “social justice” in traffic stops based on gender, height, weight and income?

Is it sound public policy to implement such a law when the gross difference in the white vs. black “stop rate” is under 3 percent – especially considering the unknown statistic of the percent of white vs. black motorists who might drive with the previously stated vehicular violations?

And are we now to the point that, as some council members appear to be arguing, there should be less strict motor vehicle safety laws for “the poor” or even for those of certain races?

If all of this is the supporters’ definition of “sound public policy,” then we have reached an entirely new depth of intellectual vapidity and dishonesty.

Councilman Coghill’s fundamental points, dismissed by the majority, remain that not enough data were considered to employ a public policing policy that indeed will lead to more unsafe vehicles on Pittsburgh’s streets.

And that’s an unacceptable public policy.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).