In 2011, the City of Philadelphia entered into a Consent Decree to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging the Philadelphia Police Department was conducting pedestrian stops (known as Terry stops) based on race. Pursuant to the Consent Decree, the City shares with the ACLU of Pennsylvania and its co-counsel, and an independent court monitor, stop and frisk data for review and analysis.
Earlier this month, the ACLU of Pennsylvania published a report of stop and frisk data generated by the Philadelphia Police Department for the second half of 2016. The ACLU noted that there had been “modest improvement” over the year before, in light of a decrease in the number of pedestrian stops (35 percent fewer pedestrians) and an increase in documented legal justifications for both stops and frisks (75 percent of stops and 59 percent of frisks) in 2016 as compared to 2015. However, the report also found that approximately 35,000 Philadelphians are still stopped illegally by police officers, and Black and Latino people, while representing just over half of Philadelphia’s population, represent over 77 percent of the Police Department stops.
The City maintained that there were non-racial reasons for the seeming disparity in stops of racial minorities, such as the demographics and crime rates in the neighborhoods where stops occur. The ACLU recently supplemented its report on stop and frisk data with a statistical analysis of racial disparity issues. The report casts doubt on the City’s non-racial justification for the stop and frisk data, finding that the racial disparity in the proportion of stops cannot be explained solely by neighborhood demographics and crime rates, or various other race-neutral factors. Instead, when the ACLU’s expert controlled for those factors, he still found that the proportion of Black residents stopped does not decrease along with the proportion of Black residents in a particular neighborhood, such that Black residents are still far more likely to be stopped by the police in neighborhoods with both low crime rates and a low share of Black residents.
Unwarranted interactions with the police, even when brief, can have detrimental and damaging effects. Trust with the community erodes, and the invasiveness of the interaction can diminish the trust for that individual and the people charged with protecting him or her, as well as cause that individual lasting harm. It is an important problem that the ACLU, and its reports, seeks to correct.