By Christopher “Flood the Drummer®” Norris
4.26.16: Philadelphia – (Politics): It took more than three hours of separate but equal discussions today with the Mayor’s Office, the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission to learn and confirm that reforms to pedestrian stops, otherwise known as stop-and-frisk, will not include as a priority the reduction of overall stops. Put another way, though the focus of local government is to ensure all stops are constitutional, and to have the number of unconstitutional stops at zero, the totality of stops – there was roughly 200,000 last year – could remain the same.
Lt. John Stanford, police spokesperson, said the number one focus is the legality of stops. Asked whether that meant quality over quantity, Lt. Stanford emphasized that indeed the quality – rather than reducing the total by a certain percentage, which would imply a quota – is of the utmost importance.
Pedestrian stops, or the lack thereof, will be determined by the needs, said Ms. Denise James, a former on-air news personality who now oversees strategic communications for the police department, who over the weekend released a comprehensive data-set from 2014-to present on pedestrian and vehicle stops.
“There will be no quota,” she reiterated.
Mary Catherine Roper, Deputy Legal Director for the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU, said she doesn’t know what a reasonable number of stops per year is, but suggested that it should be much less than 200,000.
Mr. Kelvyn Anderson, head of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, said measuring success through the numbers of stops will be difficult, but a point of reference should, without a doubt, be a significant decline in unconstitutional stops.
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The message of the day, on this issue at least, is that there’s a possibility that the number of stops may go down, but that’s not the expectation of government nor is it the objective of their reforms. However, what does get priority is accountability: District captains will answer directly to the police commissioner, who, according to Lt. Stanford, will be monitoring and auditing the numbers daily, instead of monthly.
And the punishing of officers who perform illegal stops, or who screw up, is now authorized through progressive discipline, confirmed Ms. Lauren Hitt, the Mayor’s Communications Director.
Performing a bad stop, though, is more than just the absence of reasonable suspicion. It includes, but isn’t limited to, improperly documenting the stop and, during or after the encounter, not being explanatory and respectful to the individual. As told by Ms. Roper, police commissioner Richard Ross is focused on, and genuinely concerned with, “how people are stopped.”
“There’s no reason to throw someone up against a car… and frisk are not suppose to happen all the time,” said Ms. Roper, who told Techbook Online in an exclusive interview that “we all need clarity on what the police department’s plan is to address what I think is a crisis in police-community relations.”
Clarity is welcome for another thing: stop-and-frisk v.s pedestrian stop. According to Lt. Stanford, who noted that pedestrian stops have been apart of policing since the 1968 ruling in Terry v Ohio, most people don’t understand what the term means and stop-and-frisk, as a title, has become a political phrase that causes the subject matter to be convoluted.
As is the law, which Mr. Jim Kenney cited during his mayoral campaign in an exclusive interview with me, police will always have the right to stop, and if necessary, question and frisk, a citizen if they have reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred or is impending.
So, said simply, stop-and-frisk is slang for a policing practice that’s not etched in Philadelphia policy, but that was a crime fighting strategy under the Nutter Administration and which is rooted in Federal law. So what did the Mayor mean when he said he wanted to end stop-and-frisk? It’s believed he was referring to the frequency, legality and racial disparities of stops.
But Commissioner Ross attributes the racial disparity, at least in part, to the fact that a higher level of victimization happens in poor communities populated by Blacks and Latinos, which means, without a serious plan for economic development and job training, a drastic change in numbers might not be realized in this area either. And regarding frequency of said stops, because reasonable suspicion is the standard, and because suspicious is relatively subjective, there’s no way to argue against an officer’s perspective on real or perceived criminality, thus the occurrence of stops rely solely on officers’ discretion.
So the only space to work in is in the area of legality.
“Clearly there’s room for improvement in constitutional policing,” said Mr. Anderson.
“Both the Police Commissioner and the Mayor believe the number of unconstitutional stops should be zero,” stated Ms. Hitt.
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Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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