Civil Rights Groups Say Problems Persist With Philadelphia Police Department's Stop-And-Frisk Practices

March 19, 2013
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Report Alleges Officers Target African-American Men At Disproportionate Rate

PHILADELPHIA - The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg filed a report with the court and monitor today as required by the consent decree in Bailey v. Philadelphia. The complaint in Bailey alleged that under the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD)'s stop-and-frisk policies, officers often stopped pedestrians without "reasonable suspicion" that the person was involved in criminal activity, and disproportionately stopped African-American men.

A consent decree approved by the court in 2011 requires the PPD to monitor and, where necessary, retrain and discipline its officers to ensure that Philadelphia residents are not stopped by police without reason or based on the impermissible consideration of race. Today's report finds that the overall number of stops has decreased by nearly 15%, which is a positive development. However, there is still a very high rate of stops and frisks - about 45% - made without "reasonable suspicion," which means that those stops violate the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The report notes that PPD officers continue to stop pedestrians for reasons specifically forbidden in the consent decree: because they are "loitering," or "acting suspiciously," or on the basis of a description too vague and generic to justify a stop. Tens of thousands of Philadelphians continue to be stopped without reasonable suspicion.

The report also includes an analysis of possession of marijuana arrests, which shows pronounced racial disparities. In late spring, a separate report will be filed with the court that focuses in greater detail on the racial disparity issue in stop-and-frisk cases.

The ACLU-PA and lead counsel, David Rudovsky and Paul Messing, recognize that Mayor Michael Nutter has shown leadership on the issue and the city is taking the consent decree quite seriously. However, the practices within the PPD are deeply ingrained and resistant to change.

"This report tells us that the city has not achieved the goal of ensuring that its stop-and-frisk practices are legal and fair," said David Rudovsky. "The PPD will need to improve its own monitoring and supervision systems to meet that goal, or the court will be asked to impose appropriate sanctions."

According to the report, since 2009 the number of pedestrian stops has declined from 253,000 to 215,000 - a decrease of nearly 15%. However, stops are still being made without reasonable suspicion in 43-47% of the cases, and frisks are being conducted without reasonable suspicion in over 45% of the cases. African-Americans and Latinos continue to be stopped at higher rates, with 76% of the stops and 85% of the frisks targeting minorities.

The report's city-wide analysis of marijuana arrests in the two-month period (September 15-November 15, 2012) show pronounced racial disparities. African-Americans make up 43.4% of Philadelphia's population, according to the 2010 census, yet account for 84.4% of marijuana arrests. Whites, who make up 36.9% of the population, account for only 5.8% of those arrested for marijuana possession. Marijuana arrests also vary from district to district, though even in many predominantly white districts, most of those arrested for marijuana possession are African-American. According to the report, these figures are even more disturbing in light of evidence that marijuana use is actually higher among whites than among African-Americans.

"Police practices that focus on race instead of behavior are both ineffective and harmful," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "What we want from the police is to keep our communities safe, not to target young men of color for pointless arrests for marijuana use. That doesn't make communities safer, but it does make some communities less likely to work with the police to prevent serious crime."

The report is based on data from 3,200 randomly selected pedestrians and car stops provided by the city quarterly to the Bailey plaintiffs' counsel.

The case is Bailey, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, et al. The plaintiffs are represented by Paul Messing and David Rudovsky of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg; Mary Catherine Roper of ACLU of Pennsylvania; and Seth Kreimer, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.