The Mayor of Philadelphia, who pledged to end stop-and-frisk while acknowledging officers’ right to halt citizens based on reasonable suspicion, aims to eliminate unconstitutional stops, while ensuring legal ones are applied fairly with respect across demographics.
What’s the future of stop-and-frisk in Philadelphia? Some residents would suggest, based on statements made by Mr. Jim Kenney when he was campaigning for the job as Mayor, that the policing practice, which Mr. Kenney called an unfortunate policy, will soon no longer exist.
Other Philadelphians are of the expectation that stop-and-frisk, as it manifests itself today in primarily black and brown communities, will be lessened in its frequency and brash. So, how could there be two differing expectations for one policy? Because two talking points, one more repeated than the other, were utilized often by Mr. Kenney in 2015 when campaigning.
There’s no debating the fact that the former City Councilman said, if elected, he’d end stop-and-frisk. But it also can’t be ignored that Mr. Kenney acknowledged, a week or so into his campaign, that “if police officers feel unsafe, they have the right to pat you down.” The right that police officers have is the result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Terry v Ohio, which asserted that police may stop a person if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed or is about to commit a crime. The problem that arose from this policy, moreover, what Mr. Kenney took umbrage with, is that young men of color get stopped three or four times a month just for walking down the street, while young white men, like his mid-20s son, get looked over.
The reason all of the aforementioned is relevant, more so than usual, is because this week the Kenney Administration released a transition report and in it was a recommendation to reform, not end, stop-and-frisk. The local media characterized the Mayor as taking a more “nuanced” stand to ending stop-and-frisk, while Mr. Kenney stated his position on stop-and-frisk hasn’t changed. Well, technically, the Mayor’s position hasn’t changed, though his stance is nuanced, and it has been since he began seeking the job as the City’s chief executive. Mr. Kenney knows that he can’t overrule a Supreme Court decision, but he can control and dictate how the tactic is relied on by law enforcement, and he can stress to, and retrain, officers on what a legal stop is and what it isn’t.
Mr. Kelvyn Anderson of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission said when Mr. Kenney pledged to end stop-and-frisk, which isn’t a policy but instead a tactic, he was referring to illegal stops, those not based on reasonable suspicion, and the frequency of them. Mr. Anderson believes the majority of honest citizens want police to have the ability to stop a potential criminal before they engage in criminality, but that the citizens also expect, and should see, a level of discretion and sound judgment. Equally important, though, is the respect shown during these stops, suggested Mr. Anderson.
“When we make a stop and don’t find something, we have to be really apologetic and explanatory,” Mr. Anderson said today in a phone interview.
Mr. Kenney has said – regarding the tactic and police-community relations – that “the problem starts with the first interaction.”
“Officers need to understand that citizens need to be treated with respect,” Mr. Kenney said in his February 2015 interview with Techbook Online, which was focused solely on race and policing.
Mr. Anton Moore, a South Philadelphia anti-violence activist who, when helping community members grieving from gun violence, often wishes the police would have stopped the individual, said the issue of stop-and-frisk for him is a conundrum. He’s against violence, and wants it to be prevented at all cost, but he’s also not in favor of people getting disrespected by police during an encounter. If stops, in one form or another, must continue in Philadelphia, all Mr. Moore asks for is that police “be respectful with it” and have probable cause.
Among the reforms to pedestrian stops, which may be the semantic used more often as part of the overhaul, is to ensure that the stops are applied as fairly as possible across demographic groups, which has rarely been the case. When the tactic was encouraged by Mayor Michael A. Nutter in 2008, crime dropped, but the stopping of African-American men more than doubled, which resulted in a federal lawsuit against the City by the American Civil Liberties Union.
What’s proposed now by Mr. Kenney is more just than what existed, though it’s certainly not the dramatic procedural shift some may have expected. And the mismanaged expectation, if one would call it that, isn’t necessarily the result of a lie, but rather two talking points, one repeated by Mr. Kenney more than the other.
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