It’s a policy used by police departments in major cities across the United States. It’s also a legal practice under a 1986 Supreme Court decision to establish “reasonable suspicion” as a standard lower than the necessary “probable cause” to justify arrest.
And despite its name – “stop and frisk” – this police initiative is no laughing matter.
In October 2009, the Associated Press reported that police in various U.S. cities stop and question more than 1 million people every year. The AP reports the number of individuals stopped and frisked, most of whom are black or Hispanic males, is increasing as crime rates drop.
Seeing that most individuals subjected to this policy are minorities – and seldom guilty of a crime – highlights this policy’s problematic nature, which is further shown through a major lawsuit the City of Philadelphia was recently slammed with as a result of the practice.
On Friday, Nov. 5, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that a team of civil-rights attorneys filed a lawsuit because of Mayor Michael Nutter’s “amped-up ‘stop and frisk’ policy,’” which led city police to target and illegally stop and search thousands of minority residents without reason.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Mary Catherine Roper, one of the civil-rights lawyers who filed suit on Thursday, told the Daily News the policy was unfair, and rightfully so.
“You can’t go into a neighborhood as an officer and say, ‘This is a high-crime area; everybody is under suspicion.’ That’s not what our country is about,” she said in the Daily News article.
The problem with this policy, as Roper suggests, is it leaves far too much wiggle room to cast an entire area’s residents as potential criminals, especially if training doesn’t help officers identify “indicators” for potential criminals.
That in itself is difficult to do and could lead to stereotyping groups of people and certain neighborhoods, in addition to an alarming increase in people being stopped when they haven’t committed any wrongdoing.
The lawsuit cites PPD statistics that show a 148 percent spike in pedestrian stops, from 102,319 in 2005 to 253,333 in 2009. According to the suit, 72 percent of the pedestrians stopped in 2009 were African Americans and only 8 percent led to arrests.
Paul Messing, another attorney who helped file suit, said most of the arrests had little to do with the reason pedestrians were stopped in the first place.
“The charges were often for disorderly conduct because they complained they were stopped for no reason,” he told the Daily News.
The suit also claims Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey neglected to train and supervise officers under their institution of “more aggressive stop-and-frisk practices” and with “deliberate indifference.”
It also alleges that Nutter and Ramsey did not properly discipline officers who continually violated the civil rights of those stopped and searched under the policy.
Nutter said overall crime rates were down and that race was not a factor in who was searched, according to the Daily News.
But even crime rates being down does not justify police corruption or the fact that instances of corruption have yet to drop.
In July, three Philadelphia officers were arrested after they were caught plotting to steal $15,000 worth of heroin from a drug dealer and sell it to Philadelphia citizens. Later that month, a 26-year-old police officer was arrested for stealing cash from a bar.
The Inquirer reported in a July 31 article that Ramsey was drawing up plans to present to Nutter that would weed out bad officers, yet these plans apparently have yet to go into effect.
For Ramsey to beef up “police training and supervision,” and add more investigators to the Internal Affairs Bureau is not enough. The problem won’t end with Nutter, since it was enacted before he assumed office.
Police are supposed to protect people in their communities, and until city officials take the time to evaluate why corruption like this occurs, community members – especially minority residents – are likely to feel unsafe under the current police force.
Josh Fernandez can be reached at email@example.com.