Comm. Ross speaks on what lies ahead for 'stop and frisk'
Early Tuesday morning, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross held a press conference in front of the James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse where he discussed the outcome of a meeting with the ACLU of Pennsylvania and city representatives about “stop and frisk”.
The ACLU and law firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP, released a report Tuesday as part of the ongoing monitoring process of the 2011 consent decree in Bailey v. Philadelphia — a lawsuit alleging that Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) officers had a pattern and practice of stopping and frisking pedestrians without reasonable suspicion. Data showed that such stop-and-frisks disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos.
The report is the sixth in a series of studies done as part of a settlement agreement between the city and the ACLU. All have found widespread violations.
“[The judge] had some concerns as we had expected, despite our third quarter numbers in our pedestrian investigation, which we do not disagree with and we have since then put measures in place to improve upon this, many that we have outlined with the judge,” said Ross. “He seemed very happy with the steps that we have taken thus far.”
In Tuesday's report, the ACLU wrote that it would seek sanctions from the court later this year if "rapid and significant progress" was not made.
Ross said that the PPD will look at numbers coming up within the next couple of quarters to see if there is any significant progress. He added that they have every reason to believe that there will be progress because there was no disagreements with some of the assessments made by the judge.
“The frontline supervisors, the captains and inspectors simply have to do a better job with what they’re doing,” Ross said. “Much of our issues center around with how we document things, our accountability more so than the constitutionality of some of the stops so there’s some work for us but again the meeting went very well.”
As far as accountability goes, Ross said that commanders will have to answer for pedestrian stops, and there would be an increase in auditing reports on “stop and frisks” daily instead of monthly.
According to the ACLU report, racial minorities are stopped far more often than whites. Blacks account for 69 percent of stops, Whites for 23 percent and Latinos for 7 percent.
Minorities account for an even higher share of individuals that are frisked. 79 percent are Black, 10 percent Latino, and 11 percent White. One in 6.4 stops of Black pedestrians result in a frisk, but the rate is only 1 in 15.2 for Whites.
“You need people to be treated fairly and so we will not have any baseline measured by a number we’re looking for,” Ross said. “We want to make sure people are stopped under the guise of the constitutional stops. Constitutionality is important for people to be treated fairly and that no one is unnecessarily targeted as a result particularly along racial lines.”
Earlier this month, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney visited AL DÍA News for a conversation with the editorial board to discuss details of his proposed $4.17 billion budget, while also touching upon the issue of Stop and Frisk.
Kenney stated that stop and frisk would not end entirely.
“Because if you get held up on the street by a guy with a Flyers hat, and you call in 911 and you say 'a guy with a Flyers hat just held me up at gun point' and three minutes later the police see a guy in the neighborhood with a Flyers hat, he is going to get stopped, and since you told them he had a gun they are going to frisk him,” Kenney said. “So the issue for us is that those frisks are constitutional and legitimate based on a call to 911 from a citizen. What we are going to stop is the random stopping of people, Latinos and African Americans, on the street and the cop asking ‘what are you doing here?’ and making them empty their bag and empty their pockets. There is a balance between crime fighting and being oppressive."
Ross added that the numbers given by the ACLU report concerns him only because they exist.
"It is a law enforcement tool that arises out of a federal court case from many many years ago and if you were to take that away from police officers you would have chaos on the streets of this nation," Ross said. "Not just here, what is imperative is that you do it constitutionally. It has to be done fairly in an unbiased way and you have to treat people with respect when you do it because that’s also a critical part of all of this."