Target 11 Exclusive: Pittsburgh police officers told not to follow controversial traffic stop policy

PITTSBURGH — Acting Pittsburgh police chief Tom Stangrecki issued an order this week advising officers to return to the practice of enforcing minor traffic violations, such as broken headlights or expired inspection stickers.

The police bureau banned officers from enforcing those secondary traffic offenses after Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation last year barring officers from engaging in that practice.

Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess sponsored the legislation that he said disproportionally targeted African American drivers.

Burgess said the stats back up his claims.

In 2020, Pittsburgh Police stopped 137 more Black drivers than white drivers in a city that’s only 25% African American.

Burgess said he was shocked by the disparity.

Council passed the legislation by an 8-1 margin and it took effect in April.

Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle spoke with Councilman Burgess, who said he was unaware of the reversal and he had no idea why Police changed the policy.

EARLE: Do you think they are almost slapping this back in your face?

Rev. Ricky Burgess: I don’t take this personally, but again I just think they should reconsider it because I think it will actually have the reverse effect and make us less safe.

Burgess said he stands by the ordinance and the data supports it.

“We have shown through data that when you do these secondary stops it targets disproportionately African Americans and African American communities,” said Councilman Burgess.

Target 11 reached out to the city on Monday.

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The city sent an emailed response Tuesday afternoon, stating that the move was made because of recent changes to state law.

The email did not elaborate and there was no further explanation about the changes in state law.

Target 11 sent a request for more information, but that request has not been answered as of this writing.

Sources tell Target 11 that the move to rescind the ban may have been prompted by the threat of police losing accreditation, and possibly even some state funding.

“There were a lot of risks attended to the ordinance that passed and fundamentally it told our local police that they were no longer to enforce state law. That’s a problem,” said Beth Pittinger, the executive director of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board.

She said her Board opposed the legislation when it was introduced, and today she welcomed the Chief’s decision to reverse the policy.

Pittinger: Enforcing traffic violations and the traffic laws is a fundamentally a public safety issue.

Earle: Even minor ones?

Pittinger: Minor traffic violations can lead to greater harm than the public than one would expect.

Philadelphia implemented a similar measure barring police there from initiating traffic stops for minor violations.

But the Police Officers Union filed a lawsuit, claiming the change violates state law and adversely impacts public safety.

The issue is still being decided by the courts.

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