Civil Rights Lawyers Issue Ultimatum to Kenney Administration to Fix Stop-and-Frisk Practices

March 22, 2016
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PHILADELPHIA – The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP, filed a report today as part of the monitoring process of the 2011 consent decree in Bailey v. Philadelphia, a 2010 lawsuit alleging that Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) officers had a pattern and practice of stopping and frisking pedestrians without reasonable suspicion that the person was involved in criminal activity and disproportionately stopping African-Americans and Latinos. The report, which covers the first half of 2015, documents continued widespread violation of both the consent decree and the rights of thousands of Philadelphians. If the Kenney administration does not make rapid and significant progress, the plaintiffs will seek sanctions from the court later this year.

“We understand that Mayor Kenney’s administration did not create this problem,” said David Rudovsky, counsel for plaintiffs. “But Philadelphians have waited too long for a change.  2016 is the year that the PPD needs to show that it can comply with the consent decree without the need for court-ordered sanctions.”

The report is part of the ongoing monitoring of the PPD under the consent decree, which requires that stops be conducted only when there is reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, that frisks only occur where the officer has reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed and dangerous, and that these police interventions not be based on the suspect’s race or ethnicity.

Today’s report concludes that those requirements were violated thousands of times in the first half of 2015. According to the report, 33 percent of all stops were made without the required reasonable suspicion. The PPD’s internal audits show even higher rates of stops without reasonable suspicion. In addition, 42 percent of all frisks were made without reasonable suspicion and an additional 14 percent were made in cases where the stop itself was not supported by reasonable suspicion. The PPD audit for the second quarter of 2015 shows frisks without reasonable suspicion at a comparable rate of 53 percent. In 38 randomly selected cases in which police conducted a frisk based on a “bulge,” not a single weapon was detected. Guns were seized in only 0.25 percent of all stops and 98.8 percent of all frisks yielded no weapon of any sort.  

The report also finds statistically significant racial disparities that cannot be explained by non-racial factors. Racial minorities are stopped far more often than whites: Blacks account for 69 percent of stops, Whites for 23 percent, and Latinos for 7 percent. Minorities account for an even higher share of individuals frisked: 79 percent are Black, 10 percent Latino, and 11 percent White.  One in 6.4 stops of Black pedestrians result in a frisk, but the rate is only 1 in 15.2 for Whites.

Even worse, the quality of stops is worse for racial minorities. The rate of unfounded frisks is highest for people of color, making up 62 percent frisks of Latinos, 57 percent of frisks of Blacks, and 47 percent of frisks of Whites.  Blacks who are frisked are 2.9 percentage points less likely to have contraband than whites. This means that frisks of Blacks are 31 percent less productive than those of Whites, even when controlling for a host of variables.

The one positive note in the report is that the city ordinance decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, introduced by then-city council member Kenney, has been successful. In the period March 1-May 15, 2015, there were 203 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana, an 80 percent decline from previous years during the same time frame.

“Philadelphia’s communities of color disproportionately bear the brunt of these unconstitutional policing practices,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “They are understandably fed up and demand an immediate stop to being treated like second-class citizens.”

The attorneys for the plaintiffs shared these findings with the city and agreed to hold off on any immediate request for formal court intervention or sanctions to provide time for the new administration to take the steps necessary to ensure full compliance with the consent decree.

The plaintiffs are represented by David Rudovsky, Paul Messing, and Susan Lin of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP; Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; and Seth Kreimer, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.

A copy of today’s report, previous reports, and the original complaint can be found at: www.aclupa.org/bailey

Category: Police Practices
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