PHILADELPHIA — At a press conference today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania celebrated  the August 1 launch of a pilot program that will change how Philadelphia police interact with individuals who are committing minor offenses. For three months, police in the city’s 14th police district in Northwest Philadelphia will simply ask people who are engaged in petty crimes to stop what they are doing. Only if a person refuses to comply will police forcibly stop, frisk, and question that individual.

“This program will show that it is possible to protect a community without escalating small police contacts. We look forward to seeing it spread throughout the city,” said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Pennsylvania and a lead attorney on Bailey v. City of Philadelphia, the decade-long lawsuit to curb illegal stops and frisks by city police. 

Petty offenses covered by the program include open alcohol containers, public smoking of marijuana, noise complaints, and disorderly conduct. After three months, a judge will decide if this program should be expanded to other parts of the city.  

“In the decade since the settlement of this lawsuit, the overall number of stops and frisks by Philadelphia police has dropped, but the racial disparities in these encounters persist,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “This pilot program will deescalate police encounters, particularly with Black men, that far too often turn dangerous or deadly. We need to reimagine how police interact with our communities, and we hope this is a meaningful step in that direction.” 

“The new collaboration between the ACLU & the 14th district means a lot to me,” said Jamila W. Harris, a resident of the 14th police district and certified recovery, mental health, and forensics peer specialist. “I also know that ‘returning citizens’ who are impacted by probation and parole will value this initiative because we will no longer have to live with the daily fear and threats of being stopped by an officer for a petty offense and being automatically returned to jail."

You can find more information about the Bailey case here.