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Limited Progress Toward Ending Illegal Police Stops in Philadelphia

Police stop-and-frisk practices also have been challenged in New York City. (Michael Fleshman/Flickr)
Police stop-and-frisk practices also have been challenged in New York City. (Michael Fleshman/Flickr)
January 9, 2018

PHILADELPHIA – The number of police stop-and-frisk encounters with Philadelphia pedestrians is declining, but the latest data shows racial disparities persist.

Numbers from the first six months of last year show that since 2010 there's been a 50 percent drop in stops overall. But 69 percent of those stopped were African-American, although they are less than half of the city's population.

According to Mary Catherine Roper, the Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU, the Philadelphia Police Department claims it's because that's who they encounter in high crime neighborhoods.

"But our experts' analysis say, no, black men get stopped more often in every neighborhood, no matter the crime rate and no matter whether they are the majority of the population or a minority in the population," she says.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross has implemented new accountability processes and increased training for officers.

The data was gathered under the terms of a 2011 consent decree. Since then, illegal stops, in which police have no reasonable suspicion of a crime, have declined to just 20 percent of all stops in the city. But Roper says that's not good enough.

"There should be zero percent of stops where the police cannot offer a legal reason for the stop," she stresses. "We are now seven years into this litigation. It's past time for that problem to be fixed."

The data also shows that the percentage of illegal frisks has not gone down since 2016.

Frisking is only allowed when police have a reasonable suspicion that the person is carrying a weapon. But Roper points out that weapons were found in only one percent of all frisks.

"If you're not finding a weapon in almost any of the pat-downs you do, then it seems you're very bad at identifying when somebody has a weapon and you're patting down the wrong people," she argues.

The ACLU says the police department needs to identify and sanction officers who make illegal stops and take action to end racial disparities.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA