Frisk management: Controversial cop procedure gets revamped

Posted: June 22, 2011

AFTER BEING stopped by police several times for no reason, Mahari Bailey felt compelled to stand up, not only for himself but for others who have been wrongfully "stopped and frisked."

Bailey, 27, an African-American commercial real-estate lawyer from Wynnefield and a graduate of Georgetown Law School, was lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit charging that minorities were targeted and that stops were often without probable cause or reasonable suspicion.

"Lots of people know it's wrong, but they don't know how to articulate the problem," Bailey said. "The fact that I was in a position to do something, I felt obligated to do something."

Yesterday, he stood beside Mayor Nutter and other city officials to announce a settlement in the federal lawsuit filed in November over the "stop and frisk" policy. The mayor also signed two executive orders that will change the way the Police Department conducts investigative stops.

"Today is a good day for everybody in Philadelphia, not just African-American males," Bailey said. "Being proactive is very important."

The city has agreed to several procedural changes, including a review of current training procedures, distribution of definition cards explaining standards for investigatory stops, and the establishment of an electronic database of stop reports.

Also, JoAnne Epps dean of Temple's Beasley School of Law, was named an independent outside auditor who will analyze audits and make recommendations directly to U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell, who approved the settlement.

"Law enforcement in an urban environment demands a close working relationship between the police, the community and the citizens, the people who we work for," Nutter said. "The heart of that contract between the citizens and police is trust."

Seven of the eight plaintiffs in the case - all black and Latino men, represented by the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg - will receive a total of $115,000 as part of the settlement. State Rep. Jewell Williams, a plaintiff who won the May Democratic primary for sheriff, will not receive any money.

Nutter's executive orders included the establishment of an electronic database where all pedestrian investigation reports can be entered and another that updates the processing of complaints alleging police misconduct. Verbal complaints will also be addressed immediately and inspectors will talk to the officer after the first complaint.

"We're trying to change a culture," said Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety.

The stop and frisk suit claimed that the Police Department failed to effectively audit the stops to ensure that cops complied with policy and failed to act against officers who had false or improper justifications for stops.

"This kind of unfortunate civilian-police encounters really tear at the backbone of police community relations," said attorney Paul Messing. "We need the police and the police need us. We all need to cooperate and when people feel that they're being mistreated that cooperation can quickly evaporated."

"I don't want anybody in this city to feel in any way shape or form that their dignity, that their rights are being inappropriately trampled," Nutter said. "Everyone must be treated with dignity and respect in this city regardless of who you are, where you came from, what you look like, your gender or anything else.

"That is our expectation, that is our requirement in public service and certainly in public safety."

The suit says that pedestrian stops increased dramatically from 2005 to 2009 - from 102,319 to 253,333 - and that 72 percent of those stopped in 2009 were black. Only 8.4 percent of the stops led to an arrest.

But Nutter pointed out that 84.5 percent of homicide victims are black and 84 percent of those arrested for homicides for the first three months of this year were black.

"We have a serious crime problem in our city. We have to grapple with the issue that there is a disproportionate amount of crime and victimization in some of our communities versus others," said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. "And having said that, I'm going to make sure that no matter where every stop that a police officer makes is in the frame of the Constitution. That's the goal here."

In the settlement, the city acknowledged that there has been an uptick in the number of persons stopped and frisked between 2008 and 2010 but denies all allegations of systematic violation of civil rights.