Philadelphia City Council and the Issue of Stop and Frisk

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The Philadelphia City Council, relatively silent on the issue of stop-and-frisk, has a role to play in expanding or mitigating the tactic.

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Center City
May 9, 2016
By Flood the Drummer
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By Christopher “Flood the Drummer®” Norris

5.9.16: Philadelphia – (Politics): Stop-and-frisk, a policing tactic perceived by critics as ineffective and divisive, hasn’t in recent years been up for a public hearing nor has any Philadelphia City Councilperson spoken in the media about it at length or in earnest. In 2007, a resolution was adopted by the City Council that would allow public hearings on expanding the use of stop-and-frisk in the wake of Philadelphia experiencing an “increase in the incidence of violent crime.”

When the resolution was adopted in the fall of 2007, there had been more than 300 murders. In 2015, there were 280 homicides. And as of March 2016, the number of homicides in the City rested in the steep 40s. Philadelphia has long had a problem with gun violence, and to mitigate it, aggressive stops-and-frisks were mandated in a 2008 crime fighting strategy authored by then police commissioner, Mr. Charles Ramsey, who retired in January of this year.

But, despite the roughly 200,000 stops done annually in Philadelphia, guns are rarely discovered during them and, according to Mr. Paul Messing who in 2014 testified on behalf of the ACLU in the chambers of City Council, “very few stops (less than 5%) lead to criminal charges.”  Given that stop-and-frisk isn’t achieving its primary goal but is instead, in some neighborhoods, intensifying tensions between police and communities, it is the responsibility of the city’s governing body to analyze and quantify the return on investment, while also exploring, through public hearings, the unintended consequences the policing tactic has had on the electorate.

 

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This intervention by City Council is necessary because the Philadelphia Police Department, despite the Mayor’s promise to end stop-and-frisk, confirmed that reducing the number of overall stops will not be a priority, thus the average stops per year will more likely remain around the high 200,000s, and its possible pedestrian stops will continue to disproportionately impact black and brown Philadelphians.

The racial disparities, moreover whether it’s malicious or circumstantial, can be argued indefinitely. Mr. Richard Ross, the current police commissioner, explains that more black and brown people are stopped because it is in their neighborhoods, more often than not, where high levels of victimization occur. On the side of the argument are those who declare of the racial disparities that it’s the result of institutional racism.

What can’t be argued against, however, is hard data; which can answer unequivocally whether or not stop-and-frisk is effective in achieving its primary goal of ridding the streets of guns and deterring crime. While it’s true that police, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Terry v. Ohio, will always have the right stop someone they believe may, or has, engaged in criminality, what can be mitigated is the frequency and brashness of it all. This is particularly true of the former, because it is frequency, or more accurately, expansion, that was within the jurisdiction of Philadelphia City Council to explore.

 

From L to R: City Council President Darrell Clarke stands next to Mayor Jim Kenney and City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. Photo Credit: C. Norris – ©2016

From L to R: City Council President Darrell Clarke stands next to Mayor Jim Kenney and City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. Photo Credit: C. Norris – ©2016

 

Additionally, the Philadelphia City Council, according to the Mayor, who spoke on this issue at a town hall last Friday, can introduce a question for the ballot relating to stop-and-frisk. For example, “Should the standard of pedestrian stops in Philadelphia be raised from reasonable suspicion to probable cause?”

It’s time that Philadelphians, on the issue of stop-and-frisk, apply the same pressure used in opposing the Mayor’s Office and the police department in order to negotiate demands with the city’s governing body. And more than demands, the people must have on the record the opinions of their lawmakers on this policy. City Council must not be able to hide or remain silent on this issue. It’s impacting their constituents and they must speak up and aid change.

 

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About Richard Taylor

Christopher A. Norris is an award-winning journalist, online content producer and professional drummer currently serving as the CEO of Techbook Online, a news and event company.

Christopher A. Norris is an award-winning journalist, online content producer and professional drummer currently serving as the CEO of Techbook Online, a news and event company.

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