More than five years after a class action lawsuit was filed against the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) for illegally stopping and frisking thousands of people, little has changed in the City of Brotherly Love. According to new findings from the ACLU and Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP, officers in Philadelphia are still making racially-biased stops and frisks, in violation of the terms of a 2011 consent decree.
During the first half of 2015, one-third of all stops and 42 percent of all frisks were conducted without a valid reason, and the vast majority of the people searched were black. Police targeted people for minor offenses that state and federal laws do not consider stop-worthy, such as loitering, panhandling, verbal altercations, and “obstructing” sidewalks. Officers also selected people who matched vague descriptions of suspects or happened to be in high-crime neighborhoods.
Out of 794 illegal stops, 71 percent targeted black people, who were also subjected to 77 percent of illegal frisks.
And there is little evidence to suggest that the controversial practice was successful. Only 42 of 2,380 stops yielded contraband, with a total of six guns recovered. Only four guns were found during the 326 reported frisks. Researchers who conducted a smaller case study of 38 times people were frisked because an officer noticed a “bulge” also concluded that no weapons were found.
“Philadelphia’s communities of color disproportionately bear the brunt of these unconstitutional policing practices,” Executive Director Reggie Shuford of the ACLU’s Pennsylvania branch said in a statement. “They are understandably fed up and demand an immediate stop to being treated like second-class citizens.”
Unlike federal consent decrees that force cities to comply with criminal justice reforms established by the Department of Justice, Philadelphia agreed to change its stop and frisk policies when it settled the class action lawsuit in 2011. It also consented to collecting comprehensive data on all stops and frisks in the future, but the ACLU’s latest report alleges some of those encounters weren’t recorded at all.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross doubled down on Tuesday, saying stop and frisk will always be a tactic embraced by PPD officers.
“If you were to take that away from police officers, you will have chaos on the streets of this nation, not just here,” he said, acknowledging that black people are disproportionately affected. “So, what is imperative is that we do it constitutionally. It has to be done fairly, in an unbiased way and you have to treat people with respect when you do it, because that’s also a pivotal part of all this.”
But the newest ACLU report is just the latest detailing systemic policing failures in the city. In 2015, the DOJ revealed that the use of force was on the rise because officers don’t receive adequate training on de-escalation. The police union has fought hard to keep the names of officers who use deadly force a secret, and cops retaliate against people who film them — violating their First Amendment rights.