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ACLU: A Third of Philly Stop-and-Frisks Unjustified

PHOTO: A new analysis of police records shows thousands of stop-and-frisk instances by Philadelphia police each year are legally unjustified. Photo courtesy ACLU of Pennsylvania.
PHOTO: A new analysis of police records shows thousands of stop-and-frisk instances by Philadelphia police each year are legally unjustified. Photo courtesy ACLU of Pennsylvania.
February 25, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. - More than a third of Philadelphia police stop-and-frisk instances are "not legally justified," according to a new analysis by the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The organization has been monitoring the city's compliance with a 2011 court order. Senior staff attorney Mary Catherine Roper said that since that consent order, Philadelphia officers have filed a report each time they stop a pedestrian. She said fewer than half of those reports show the police acted on a reasonable suspicion. The research showed that 35 percent of the stops - tens of thousands a year - raise serious legal questions, she said.

"Based on what the police officers write down," she said, "in at least a third of these instances, the officers have not provided legal justification for treating someone like a criminal suspect."

Roper noted that half the city's residents are black or Hispanic, but the ACLU found eight out of 10 of those who were stopped - and nine out of 10 who were searched - were minorities.

City police officials explain the pattern of stops as part of their targeting high-crime areas with higher minority populations. But according to the ACLU's report, crime rates and police patrol routes don't explain the pattern of stops, which also don't correlate with the number of cases where police found weapons or drugs.

Roper said she thinks the police are stopping too many innocent people, for no good reason.

"This is not random. It is not tied to crime rates, even neighborhood by neighborhood," she said. "It's not tied to anything that you could see as a justification."

Roper said the city's reporting is much better, but she called unjustified stops a violation of the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. She added that until a mechanism is in place to better "police the police," she worries the number of unjustified stops won't come down.

"While the city has made great strides in its record-keeping, it has not made strides in accountability for its officers," she said, "and actually reducing the number of unconstitutional stops, particularly of African-American men."

The ACLU filed its report with the court on Tuesday.

The full report is online at aclupa.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - PA