ACLU: Philly Police Still Stopping and Frisking

"Racial minorities" still singled out for unreasonable stops, report says.

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Updated with response from police.

Philadelphia Police continue to single out “racial minorities” for unfair and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk searches, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a report released today. The ACLU said it was considering seeking “court intervention” in the matter.

“On the issue of whether stops and frisks are supported by reasonable suspicion, the data shows very high levels of impermissible stops,” the ACLU said in a court filing.

“And, on the issue of whether impermissible racial factors are causing high numbers of racial minorities to be stopped and frisked, consideration of the ‘benchmarks’ for assessing possible racial bias demonstrates that non-racial factors do not explain the racial disparities,” the filing said. “There is an urgent need for substantial improvements on both issues, and if that is not accomplished in the near future, we will seek court intervention.”

“The Department is aware of the recent filing by the ACLU and the law department will respond accordingly via the courts,” Philly Police said in a written statement released this afternoon. “The Department will not release any rebuttal prior to taking the appropriate legal action through the courts.”

The ACLU’s report was the fifth since it entered into a consent decree with Philadelphia Police in 2011. As part of the settlement, the department agreed to keep a database of all its stop-and-frisk encounters, which the ACLU has analyzed in its regular reports filed with the federal court.

According to the newest analysis, Philadelphia Police initiated more than 200,000 stop-and-frisk encounters in 2014. More than 37 percent of the stops analyzed were made without reasonable suspicion. Minority residents accounted for more than 80 percent of the stops.

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The practice proved fairly inefficient, the ACLU says, turning up no evidence of criminal activity in 95 percent of encounters.

“Most frisk reports assert that the suspect has a “bulge” in a pocket, refuses to take his hands out of his pockets, does not cooperate with police, or that the stop was based on a report of a gun or violent crime,” the ACLU said in its court filing. “‘Bulges’ inevitably turn out to be cell phones and the other triggering factors are very weak indicators of criminal activity. Thus, in 78 cases in which police conducted a frisk based on a ‘bulge,’ a weapon was detected in only 1 case. The fact that so few frisks lead to the recovery of a weapon raises serious questions as to whether the police are accurately reporting what they observe and whether the reasons generally provided for frisks are appropriate proxies for weapon possession.”

“In our view, the city must move very decisively to ensure that stops are made only where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct. Failing such action, we will seek court intervention to secure full compliance with the consent decree,” said David Rudovsky of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, the law firm representing the ACLU.

The full ACLU report is below.

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