ACLU: Phila. P.D. 'stop-and-frisks' still problematic despite '11 consent decree in class action case

Civil rights lawyers who sued in late 2010 on behalf of Philadelphia residents who contended the city’s police department disproportionately targets black men during its controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy said this week that they continue to be troubled by similar allegations, even after the parties entered into a consent decree in the case back in 2011. The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Philadelphia law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg announced on March 19 that while the overall number of stop-and-frisk occurrences have decreased by nearly 15 percent since the filing of Bailey v. Philadelphia back in November 2010, there is still a very high rate of stops and frisks, about 45 percent, made without “reasonable suspicion.” Those stops, the lawyers contend, violate the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a report with the court this week, as required under the consent decree, which notes that Philadelphia police officers continue to stop pedestrians for reasons specifically forbidden in the consent decree: because they are “loitering,” “acting suspiciously,” or on the basis of a “description too vague and generic to justify a stop.” “Tens of thousands of Philadelphians continue to be stopped without reasonable suspicion,” the ACLU stated in a news release. Attorneys David Rudovsky and Paul Messing, co-lead counsel on the case alongside lawyers with the ACLU of Pa., gave credit to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter for showing leadership on the issue, and both attorneys have stated that the city is taking consent decree seriously, but the problem is that the practices within the police department are “deeply ingrained and resistant to change,” according to the ACLU’s news release. “This report tells us that the city has not achieved the goal of ensuring that its stop-and-frisk practices are legal and fair,” Rudovsky said in a statement. “The PPD will need to improve its own monitoring and supervision systems to meet that goal, or the court will be asked to impose appropriate sanctions.” The latest report was the third such one to come out of the consent decree, which, along with a settlement agreement and class certification, was approved by a federal judge in Philadelphia back on June 21, 2011. The plaintiffs submitted their first report, which analyzed stop-and-frisk data for the first two quarters of 2011, on Feb. 6, 2012, the record shows. That first report had focused primarily on Fourth Amendment issues, specifically whether there was sufficient cause for officers’ stops, frisks and searches on pedestrians. The second report, submitted this past July, included a Fourth Amendment analysis of the third quarter 2011 stop-and-frisk data, a racial analysis of the data for the first and second quarters of 2011, and a racial analysis of possession of marijuana arrests for the period of Sept. 15 to Nov. 15, 2011, according to the latest report. As for the marijuana issue, the ACLU asserts that while African Americans make up 43.4 percent of Philadelphia’s population, they account for 84.4 percent of marijuana arrests. Whites, however, make up 36.9 percent of the city’s population, but account for just 5.8 percent of marijuana possession arrests, according to the report. The ACLU said these figures are even more disturbing in light of the fact that marijuana use is actually higher among whites than blacks. “Police practices that focus on race instead of behavior are both ineffective and harmful,” Reggie Shuford, the executive director of the ACLU’s Pennsylvania chapter, said in a statement. “What we want from the police is to keep our communities safe, not to target young men of color for pointless arrests for marijuana use. That doesn’t make communities safer, but it does make some communities less likely to work with the police to prevent serious crime.” The latest report, according to the ACLU, is based on data from 3,200 randomly selected pedestrian and car stops provided by the city quarterly to the Bailey plaintiffs’ legal counsel.

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