PHILADELPHIA - On Thursday, a federal judge issued a new order in the decade-long enforcement of the agreement by the city of Philadelphia to end racial bias in stops and frisks by city police officers. The order establishes a pilot program in which officers in a designated police district will first ask people engaged in petty offenses to end the activity and, if necessary, leave the area. Officers will only forcibly detain and question the person if they refuse to stop the behavior.
The city’s own data shows that nearly half of pedestrian stops are for low-level offenses, including open containers of alcohol, littering, spitting, gambling, and open smoking of marijuana, and that those stops are even more racially disparate than stops for more serious offenses.
Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the law firm Kairys Rudovsky Messing Feinberg and Lin, who represent the plaintiffs in the case, praised the order as a significant step forward in diminishing contact between police officers and residents.
“Police officers are the gateway into the criminal legal system,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “When officers engage a person, that person’s likelihood of entering the system goes up dramatically. And we know that, while the numbers have dropped from their peak, Philadelphia police officers still stop thousands of people every year without cause and do that disproportionately to Black people.
“This program could be a turning point in the history of this case, if the mayor and police commissioner are serious about implementing it and enforcing it.”
The pilot program will begin August 1 in police district 14, which covers areas of northwest Philadelphia, and, after a three-month run and evaluation, the plaintiffs and the city will discuss expansion to other districts and, later, to possible citywide implementation.
The court’s order also includes a program for monitoring racial disparities in pedestrian stops and frisks by individual officers and their commanders, and the development of an accountability and discipline system of those who engage in racially biased stops and frisks. The police department will designate “accountability officers” to monitor stops and frisks and racial disparities in five designated police districts and will provide annual training and random audits of body-worn camera footage, to compare to information documented by officers.
The city and the plaintiffs’ counsel agreed to the main provisions of the order.
David Rudovsky, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs also praised Judge Padova’s order as a significant remedial measure for a long history of racially disparate stop and frisk practices and stated that “both the pilot project and the mandate for meaningful accountability measures for racially biased policing are critical steps on the path towards racially equitable policing in Philadelphia.”
The case, Bailey et al. v. City of Philadelphia et al., was filed in 2010 on behalf of ten Black and Latinx men who were stopped by Philadelphia police officers based solely on their race. In 2011, the city and the plaintiffs agreed to a settlement in which the city collects and reports data on officers’ rationale for stops and frisks and the race of the people who are stopped and frisked. Both parties submit annual reports to the court reporting and analyzing that data.
While the actual number of stops of pedestrians has dropped significantly from their peak, stops and frisks in violation of people’s constitutional rights continue. In the 2020 report, which examined data from the last two quarters of 2019, 16 percent of stops and 32 percent of frisks occurred without reasonable suspicion that the person committed a crime. Black Philadelphians were also more likely to be stopped on the basis of race, particularly in police districts with a smaller Black population than the white population.
A copy of today’s order and other documents related to the case are available at aclupa.org/Bailey.