ACLU: Philly police stop-and-frisk problems persist
Two years after the settlement of a contentious lawsuit over the Philadelphia Police Department’s use of stop-and-frisk practices, officers are still disproportionately targeting minorities and conducting stops without reasonable suspicion, according to an ACLU report released today.
The ACLU found that though the overall number of pedestrian stops decreased in 2012, nearly half of the stops made in the first six months of the year were conducted without reasonable suspicion and the vast majority of their targets were minorities.
Those figures aren’t much different than data released three years despite a consent decree requiring the department to monitor, retrain and, if necessary, discipline officers.
“The problem is whatever training and supervision that has been done has not yet been effective in our view,” said ACLU attorney David Rudovsky.
He said the shift in stop-and-frisk practices is “a big culture change” for the police department. “At this point, they need to not just re-train,” he said. “Officers making bad stops on a regular basis have to be held accountable.”
The report also points to the low “hit rates” of Philadelphia police stop and frisks that seem to indicate the practice may not be extremely effective. Stop-and-frisks rarely led to the recovery of contraband or firearms, according to the report.
Though officers indicated the suspect possessed a weapon in 112 stops made during the first half of last year, only three of those stops actually resulted in a weapon being recovered.
Can numbers lie?
Perhaps most troubling are allegations that police inspectors’ audits of stop-and-frisk data don’t match up with those independently generated by the ACLU.
“The process is we both look at the same random selection of stops,” Rudovsky said. “They look at them and we look at them and there is that discrepancy — they’re finding a much lower rate of improper stops.”
He said ACLU attorneys who audit the stops accept at face value the rationale officers write on the forms.
“In close cases, we give the benefit of doubt to police, so when we say something was a bad stop or bad frisk it’s because what they’ve written on the form is not sufficient with the consent agreement with the city and what the court ruled under the Fourth Amendment.”
A review of inspector audits from each police division shows that up to 4 percent of pedestrian stops conducted during the first two quarters of 2012 were deemed to have been done so without reasonable suspicion — a stark difference from ACLU estimates putting that proportion between 43 and 47 percent.
“I think what the city should be looking at is they have inspectors that are reviewing these — first of all, we think the inspectors’ standards have to be reviewed to make sure they’re doing it right,” Rudovsky said.
“Internally, they ought to be seeing what we’re seeing — a significant number of bad stops. I think this goes back to holding accountable the officers who are making the stops and the sergeants reviewing them within the district.
“I think with a department like the police department, if the higher-ups were held accountable as well, the message would get down to officers on the street.”
The ACLU plans to request court intervention to address the disparities if the numbers don’t improve.
Blacks, whites and green
The ACLU report also analyzed citywide marijuana possession arrests between September and November of 2012.
It found black people accounted for 84.4 percent of the arrests even though they constitute 43.4 percent of Philadelphia’s population.
White people, who make up 36.9 percent of the city’s population, accounted for only 5.8 percent of pot possession arrests.
“To find nearly 90 percent of the arrests were minorities when all the self reporting studies show whites probably use marijuana more than minorities, that’s troubling,” Rudovsky said. “Whether that’s a matter of police deployment or police tactics, it’s something I think the city has to look at.”
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 president John McNesby said he doesn’t put much weight in the report because it was prepared by longtime opponents of stop-and-frisk.
“Our officers are highly trained,” he said. “They go through the academy for eight months. They know what to do when it comes to stop-and-frisk.
“We’re not hearing any grumblings from the community,” he said. “There’s been no spike in Internal Affairs complaints – I think our officers are doing a great job.”
He said every police department practices stop-and-frisk, even if they don’t label it as such. “Officers are out there to do their jobs, suppress crime and come home safely at night,” he said.
“The ACLU conducted the audit. They can lead to whatever result they want, which is to eventually do away with [stop-and-frisk].”
By the numbers
- Philadelphia police made 215,000 pedestrian stops in 2012.
- That’s a nearly 15% decrease from 2009, when there were 253,000 pedestrian stops.
- Between 43% and 47% of pedestrian stops in the first half of 2012 were made without reasonable suspicion.
- According to audits from police inspectors, reasonable suspicion was only lacking in 0% to 4% of pedestrian stops made in each division during the first two quarters of 2012.
- 76% of the pedestrians stopped in the first half of 2012 were minorities.
- 1.57% of pedestrian stops in the first two quarters of 2012 resulted in the recovery of contraband.
- 0.16% of those stops resulted in the recovery of guns, for a grand total of 3 firearms recovered.
- 5.29% of pedestrian stops during the first two quarters of 2012 resulted in arrests.