Philly Stop-and-frisk policy gets court supervision

Posted: June 22, 2011

One of Philadelphia's most controversial crime-fighting tactics - stop-and-frisk searches of pedestrians - will soon be under court supervision after a settlement between the city and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU sued the city last year over allegations that police officers used racial profiling to determine whom to stop, and that the stops were conducted with little or no justification.

At a news conference at City Hall, Mayor Nutter said the settlement would begin the process of restoring trust between the Police Department and residents who have felt unfairly targeted.

"We do not want anyone in this city to feel in any way, shape, or form that their rights are being trampled on," Nutter said. "Every Philadelphian, every American, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect."

Officials Tuesday described a multi-tiered system of oversight that will be in effect by next year. The Police Department will create an electronic database into which stop-and-frisk reports will be entered. The database will track the searches, and allow others to analyze the data and audit the process regularly, to ensure that officers are conducting the searches legally.

That data will be monitored by the Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau and the plaintiffs' attorneys in the case.

JoAnne A. Epps, dean of Temple University's Beasley School of Law, will serve as an independent monitor and make recommendations based on regular reviews of the data. She will report directly to Judge Stewart Dalzell of U.S. District Court, who approved the settlement.

David Rudovsky, one of the attorneys who filed the federal suit on behalf of eight men, spoke of the importance of moving forward.

"We believe we can make sure that people are not stopped arbitrarily, to make sure that they're not stopped because of their race or ethnicity, and to give the police the power to make those stops when appropriate," he said.

Officials also said they would review officers' training on stop-and-frisk to ensure that stops are only being conducted when there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal behavior.

In 2008, more than 600 police supervisors underwent a two-hour training course in stop-and-frisk searches. Those supervisors were instructed to communicate the tenets of that training to their district officers, and to warn them not to stop pedestrians without just cause.

Mahari Bailey, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said he was happy with the settlement and optimistic that it would have an impact. Bailey, a Georgetown Law graduate, is black and was stopped by police four times over the course of about a year.

"We're in a position to make a lot of change," he said. "That's all I can ask. We're in a position to monitor this and to see that things get better."

The settlement also included a $115,000 award to be divided among seven of the plaintiffs.

Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey embraced stop-and-frisk in 2008 in response to a wave of gun violence.

The tactic is aimed at getting illegal guns off the street by allowing officers to frisk pedestrians as long as there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Nutter and Ramsey have credited the searches in part with helping drive down the city's crime numbers.

Opponents acknowledge that stop-and-frisk searches are legal and constitutional when conducted correctly. And in Philadelphia, where crime occurs more often in minority neighborhoods, both sides have agreed that there is nothing wrong with police officers stopping black and Hispanic residents in higher numbers than white residents.

The problem, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued, is that almost none of the stops end up having anything to do with violent crime.

In 2009, officers stopped 253,333 pedestrians, 72 percent of whom were African American, the lawsuit said.

Only 8 percent of the stops led to an arrest, often for "criminal conduct that was entirely independent from the supposed reason for the stop," the suit contended.

In addition to Bailey, other high-profile plaintiffs include Fernando Montero, a University of Pennsylvania ethnographer who was stopped multiple times by police, and State Rep. Jewell Williams, a Democrat from Philadelphia who won his party's nod in the primary to run for sheriff.

The lawsuit also noted a "history of racially biased policing" in Philadelphia. In 1996, when a settlement in another civil-rights lawsuit required police to allow monitoring of car and pedestrian stops, analysis of thousands of those stops showed a wide racial disparity.


Contact staff writer Allison Steele at 215-854-2641 or asteele@phillynews.com.

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