ACLU: Philly Police Have “Failed” to Fix Stop-and-Frisk

Top Cop Richard Ross says changes are on the way.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross speaks during a news conference Friday, January 8, 2016, in Philadelphia.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania lambasted the Philadelphia Police Department in a report today over lingering problems with the way it handles stop-and-frisk, particularly in African-American and Latino communities.

The report is the sixth filed in federal court by the law firm of of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg since it entered into a consent decree with the city in 2011, following a class-action lawsuit that accused the police department of routinely subjecting people of color to unconstitutional searches.

“As with the previous reports, this submission presents compelling evidence that the city has failed to remedy serious flaws in the police department’s stop-and-frisk practices,” reads the second line of the report.

The problems are predictably familiar. A random sampling of 2,380 pedestrian stops during the first half of 2015 found that 67 percent were supported by reasonable suspicion, while 33 percent were made without any reasonable suspicion.

Out of 326 frisks during that same period of time, 43 percent were supported by reasonable suspicion, while 42 percent were not. (Some context: Last February, the law firm’s report found that 37 percent of stops and 39 percent of frisks in the first half of 2014 were made without reasonable suspicion.)

People of color continue to be the primary subjects of sidewalk investigations. Black residents made up 68 percent of all stops and 77 percent of frisks in the first half of 2015, according to the report. Latinos were the subjects of 8 percent of stops and 11 percent of frisks.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross discussed the report’s findings after attending an early morning meeting in federal court with representatives from the law firm and U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell.

“Candidly speaking, the judge had some concerns, as we would expect, particularly about some spike in our third-quarter numbers in our pedestrian investigations and oversight issues, which we do not disagree with,” Ross said.

 So what happens next?

Ross said the department is focused on making midlevel commanders more accountable. Going forward, captains will have to do daily reviews of reports that officers are required to fill out when they make pedestrian stops. Currently, those reviews are done on a quarterly basis.

The commanders will also have to offer updates on their progress at weekly CompStat meetings.

“We just have to do a better job of what we’re doing,” Ross said. “Much of our issues center around just how we document things [and] our accountability, more so than the constitutionality of some of the stops. But obviously they all dovetail into one another.”

It’s a thorny topic for Ross and Mayor Jim Kenney, who ran on a platform of ending stop-and-frisk.

“I think his position has modified, to say the least,” Ross said, adding that there would be “chaos on the streets of this nation” if police officers were prohibited from stopping pedestrians when they have reasonable suspicion.

Last month, however, Kenney told the Inquirer that his position on stop-and-frisk hasn’t changed. It will be interesting, going forward, to see if the mayor and the police commissioner will be on the same page over this issue.

“The reforms that Commissioner Ross announced today are a tremendous step forward in Philadelphia’s community-police relations,” Kenney said in an emailed statement today. “They provide our officers with the resources and support they need to protect and serve, while also assuring all Philadelphians that there are very real accountability measures in place to ensure that oath is carried out.”

Ross said he’s scheduled to meet with Judge Dalzell, the ACLU and the law firm again in September to see if the department’s new measures have made an impact.

The report contained other troubling figures. Stop-and-frisk didn’t net much in the way of weapons, based on the data from the first half of 2015. (A similar theme emerged in years past.)

The report found that guns were found on pedestrians only six times out of 2,380 stops, while four guns were recovered during 326 frisks. Cops often cite “bulges” that they spot in jackets or pants as reasons for stopping or searching a passerby. But a sampling of 38 bulge-related frisks resulted in … zero weapons being found, according to the report.

“We understand that Mayor Kenney’s administration did not create this problem,” attorney David Rudovsky said in a press release from the ACLU. “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.”

Follow @dgambacorta on Twitter.