Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross stand at a press conference in 2016.

Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross stand at a press conference in 2016.

@PhiladelphiaGov on Twitter

Stop-and-frisk in Philly: Police say it’s decreasing, but here’s the thing

The city and the ACLU disagree over how common this controversial practice is.

Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross stand at a press conference in 2016.

Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross stand at a press conference in 2016.

@PhiladelphiaGov on Twitter
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Despite assurances from Mayor Jim Kenney that illegal stop-and-frisk would end in Philadelphia, a new report performed by the Philadelphia Police Department found that about one in five “pedestrian stops” still lack “reasonable suspicion,” while 30 percent of frisks do, too.

Meanwhile, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg LLP reported different figures, noting that in data they compiled, one in four stops in 2016 were made without the officer giving a legal reason, translating to more than 35,000 people — 75 percent of whom are black and brown.

It’s been more than six years since a class action lawsuit was filed against the City of Philadelphia alleging that thousands of illegal stops and frisks were racially biased, resulting in a 2011 settlement in which the city vowed to change its practices and work with the ACLU to collect significantly more data. In March 2016, the plaintiffs gave the city an ultimatum: Fix your stop-and-frisk practices or face sanction in federal court.

When Kenney, a former councilman, ran for mayor in 2015, he said repeatedly on the campaign trail that the practice of stop-and-frisk would end under him. Since then, his administration has said it’s not possible to altogether eliminate the practice, but rather that he was promising that illegal stop-and-frisk that disproportionately targets black and brown people would end. (We at PolitiFact PA gave Kenney a “half-flip” on his stance.)

The ACLU reported that more than three quarters of stops were of Black or Latino people, who make up more than half of the city’s population. Additional racial analysis will be filed later this month.

The Police Department and the administration are touting their own most recent report, noting that there has been a significant decrease in the number of pedestrian stops made without reasonable suspicion. The data in the police’s report is based on internal audits of reports filed by police officers on pedestrian stops. Not every audited report was used for the overall review — the police are basing their “reasonable suspicion” data on a random sampling, as did the ACLU.

Here are the highlights from both reports:

1. The data on ‘reasonable suspicion’

What the general public understands as “stop-and-frisk” is technically a legal crime-fighting tool that police can use in a way that’s consistent with the constitution, something the ACLU agrees with. Kenney described the legal distinction to Al Dia‘s editorial board as such:

“If you get held up on the street by a guy with a Flyers hat, and you call in 911 and you say, ‘A guy with a Flyers hat just held me up at gun point.’ And three minutes later the police see a guy in the neighborhood with a Flyers hat, he is going to get stopped. And since you told them he has a gun, they are going to frisk him. So the issue for us is those frisks are… constitutional and legitimate based on a call on 911 from a citizen.”

In terms of the raw data, the city’s report notes that Philly police made about 78,000 fewer pedestrian stops lacking reasonable suspicion in 2016 in total than in 2015, representing a 72 percent decrease. There were also about 74,000 fewer pedestrian stops in total in 2016 compared to 2015. In 2016, police made 139,441 pedestrian stops, which they say is the lowest that number has been since the case’s inception in 2010.

Below is a look at the percentage of pedestrian stops made without reasonable suspicion in 2015 and 2016, per the department in its filing. In 2016, pedestrian stops without reasonable suspicion as reported by police reached their lowest point since 2010.

And the same information, but with regard to the number of frisks made without reasonable suspicion:

According to Philly Police, the 5 percent figure from the first quarter of 2015 was based on “flawed metrics” that have since been corrected.

The ACLU conducted its own audits and found that Philadelphia Police officers stopped 35 percent fewer pedestrians in 2016 as compared to 2015 and finds that officers “gave a legal reason in a higher percentage of stops” (75 percent) and frisks (59 percent) in 2016 compared to the year prior.

2. The city says stops without reasonable suspicion declined under Kenney

The city and the police department repeatedly pointed out in its filing that a “drastic” decrease in the number of pedestrian stops made without reasonable suspicion started in the second quarter of 2016, just a few months after Kenney was sworn in and named a new police commissioner.

While both the percentage of stops and frisks decreased in the second quarter of 2016, the number of overall stops and frisks actually increased during the same quarter the administration refers to, then decreases by the third quarter of 2016. Here’s a look at the total pedestrian stops made per quarter in 2015 and 2016:

The ACLU’s audit found pedestrian stops without reasonable suspicion decreased by a smaller margin. Their report indicates that the first half of last year shows pedestrian stops without reasonable suspicion at 27 percent, while the second half of the year was at 25 percent.

3. The racial component

The ACLU found that pedestrian stops made by Philadelphia Police in 2016 still disproportionately targeted people of color. Both the Police Department and the plaintiffs in the case will file additional analyses regarding racial bias by May 16.

This chart shows racial data compiled by the ACLU on stops it analyzed:

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ACLU filing

4. Reasons for decrease in stops without reasonable suspicion

The city is touting new policies and procedures as reasons why the number of pedestrian stops made without reasonable suspicion decreased in 2016. Among those are incorporating the recording of these stops into its existing Compstat program, implementing additional “accountability measures” and conducting more training.

But the Department also indicated that it’s addressed “procedural problems” with how officers record pedestrian stops. The Department wrote in its filing that it no longer must classify two different stops as actual pedestrian stops. For example, police were classifying “sight arrests” that resulted in the person being released for whatever reason as pedestrian stops. They no longer do. Police also filed similar reports based on situations “when individuals were detained during the service of a search warrant and the officers did not describe their basis for reasonable suspicion,” and no longer do.

5. Low rates of recovering anything during a stop

The police refused to provide their own “hit rates,” or the number of stops that actually yielded contraband or evidence, citing “reservations” with respect to its significance. The city wrote: “Assessing and utilizing a ‘hit-rate’ in the analysis of pedestrian stops and frisks would also have to take into consideration an officer’s discretion to not arrest an individual for what is considered or perceived as minor/nuisance offenses. By removing this type of discretion, the ‘hit-rate’ could be substantially increased.”

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ACLU filing

The ACLU’s report indicated that in 2016, only 5 percent of stops and 10 percent of frisks resulted in the seizure of contraband or other evidence. The plaintiffs point out that number could be even lower, as “police reported no frisks in a significant number of stops involving violent crimes or reports of weapons.”

The reports

Here’s the ACLU’s filing:

And PPD’s: