Report says Philly cops still target blacks for stop and frisk; city disputes findings

Philadelphia Police Department headquarters at 7th and Race streets (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia Police Department headquarters at 7th and Race streets (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Just as the Philadelphia Police Department enacts new training to reduce the number of illegal stops and frisks officers are conducting, a new report says police are still overwhelmingly targeting black men and women in the city.

African-Americans are about 46 percent of Philadelphia’s population, yet represent 70 percent of all stops, according to an analysis of pedestrian stops for the second half of last year.

The numbers appear to show little improvement has been made since 2015, despite the department being under a court-ordered independent monitor charged with overseeing changes to ensure more stops are legal and not motivated by a pedestrian’s race.

The analysis, which is fiercely disputed by the city, comes from experts hired by civil rights attorneys who sued the city over its stop and frisk practices.

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Over the years, city officials have argued that the racial disparity in stops can be explained by heavier policing in neighborhoods with high violent crime rates and greater economic challenges. The report says those explanations aren’t borne out by the data exmanined.

“Our experts took into account all of those factors and still found a significant disparity based on race,” said civil rights lawyer David Rudovsky, part of the legal team that sued in 2010 seeking to reform how stops and frisks are carried out in the city.

The city, however, came to the opposite conclusion.

Using data provided to the city’s expert from the statistician hired by the civil rights lawyers, the City Solicitor’s Office found that blacks are no more likely than whites to be stopped and frisked in Philadelphia.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s statistician, Ralph Taylor, disputed findings by David Abrams, the expert hired by the civil rights team. Taylor said the data shows that in stops that weren’t legally justified, blacks were no more like to be targeted than whites. Abrams said the racial composition of all those stopped and frisked have to be considered.

In addition, Taylor claims that Abrams worked with too broad of a definition for African-Americans, which he argues resulted in some individuals being reported as both Hispanic and African-American, causing some double-counting.

The contradictory reports will be submitted to U.S. District Judge John Padova, who will preside over a hearing with both sides about the disagreement. 

Cracking down on quality of life crimes 

The majority of the stops and frisks analyzed appear to be the result of a crackdown on quality of life crimes, not the suspicion of violent offenses, according to the civil rights lawyers.

Officers by law are only allowed to frisk a person if the officer believes that a suspect is armed and dangerous. But pat-downs, the new analysis shows, yield a gun just 1 out of every 51 times. Of the 700 frisks that the experts examined, guns were found 3.3 percent of the time.

“In a program that’s designed to get guns off the street, the hit rate is vanishingly small,” Rudovsky said.

Part of the settlement reached between the civil rights attorneys and city officials requires that the police department enact reforms to end racially-biased stops and frisks. Since there’s been precious little improvement over the past few years according to Rudovsky,  his legal team could be close to requesting sanctions, including large fines, if positive results are not demonstrated soon.

“Ultimately, the court has the power to sanction the city if they don’t develop practices and polices that result in fair racial distribution of stops and frisks,” Rudovsky. “If the city doesn’t make significant improvement in the next calendar year, that is something we would have to consider.”

Philadelphia police spokesman Capt. Sekou Kinebrew said the department has reviewed the latest audits on racial disparities in police interactions and welcome the “significant improvement” highlighted in the city’s report.

That said, Kinebrew added that “there is certainly room for improvement. As this is an ongoing process, the department will continue working toward our shared goals.”

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