ACLU: Stop-and-frisk still intolerable
Philadelphia police have committed "an intolerably high level" of civil rights abuses through their stop-and-frisk program, the American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday, threatening new court action against the city.
The state chapter of the ACLU, which has monitored the program for nearly three years, said in its first public report to U.S. District Court Judge Stewart Dalzell that nearly half the police stops in 2012 were unconstitutional and that few guns were found in the searches.
"Unfortunately, there has been no significant improvement in the quality of the stops and frisks," the report said, stating that 215,000 people - mainly minority men - were stopped last year as part of the program.
"There is an intolerably high level of unlawful stops and frisks . . . Unless there is a dramatic change in the practices, we will be compelled to seek judicial relief," it said.
The monitoring program was part of the Nutter administration's 2011 settlement to end an ACLU lawsuit that accused the police of using racial profiling to determine whom to stop.
Nutter made the stop-and-frisk program a key part of his 2007 mayoral campaign, promising that it would bring down crime. Police statistics show the number of gun robberies and assaults with firearms have dropped sharply since Nutter took office in 2008, down 20 percent and 11 percent respectively. Police reported the same number of homicides last year as in 2008, but the murder rate is down so far this year.
The theory behind the stop-and-frisk program, which is practiced in numerous cities, is that intense police pressure on high-crime areas gets guns off the street. Police legally can frisk pedestrians if there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Police experts say training is essential to ensure that officers know when they are allowed to conduct stops and searches.
In 2009, police stopped more than 250,000 people, mainly black and Latino men, according to the original lawsuit. Because Philadelphia's high-crime areas tend to be in minority communities, allegations of racial profiling quickly surfaced.
Among the plaintiffs in the initial lawsuit were numerous Latino and black professional men, including former State Rep. Jewell Williams - now Philadelphia's Sheriff - who were stopped under the program.
At the time of the settlement, Mayor Nutter said the agreement - requiring the city to provide the monitoring team with reports on thousands of stops each year - would help restore the public's trust in the police department.
The report said police have been reducing the number of stops, down 15 percent last year. Police are supposed to cut back the frequency of stops when the program has successfully reduced crime.
In addition to the monitoring team, department officials in each police division have audited samplings of stops. They have found few incidents in which officers did not have legal justifications for conducting stops.
The report questioned those low numbers.
It said that in the high-crime East Division, the department's audits found that officers had reasonable suspicion to frisk people in every incident that was audited for the first quarter of 2012. In the Northeast Division, where the department audited 393 stops during the second quarter of 2012, not a single one was deemed to be improper, it said.
"In our view, the audits conducted by the city for these two quarters are flawed," the report said.
Attorney Paul Messing, one of the lawyers who worked with the ACLU monitoring, said his group found more than twice as many illegal stops as it had expected when it filed the original lawsuit against the city.
He said the program also produced few firearm seizures, with police finding only one gun for roughly every 1,000 stops.
"This program was implemented in a very unproductive way," Messing said.
Contact Mark Fazlollah at 215-854-5831 or firstname.lastname@example.org.