Report: Philadelphia police still make car stops based on race By Barbara Boyer and Thomas J. Gibbons Jr. December 8, 2000, Friday Copyright 2000 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service The Philadelphia Inquirer December 8, 2000, Friday Terms and Conditions Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved. (PHILADELPHIA) -- Four years after sweeping reforms were promised within the Philadelphia Police Department, a detailed audit released Thursday concludes officers still stop motorists and pedestrians based on race and without legal justification.
In addition, local civil rights lawyers who have analyzed police reports from all 23 districts question whether officers are reporting all stops. And, they say, police in specific districts - particularly in Northeast Philadelphia - disproportionately stop blacks.
"The bottom line is...every single officer in this department needs to be re-educated concerning the mandates of the constitution of the United States," said Stefan Presser, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the organizations that has kept scrutiny of the police in recent years.
In a written statement issued shortly after the release of the report Thursday, Police Commissioner John F. Timoney said the study was flawed.
"It is unfortunate that the report relies on old data and doesn't reflect what is currently happening in the police department," the commissioner said in the statement.
He said that the department had just received a copy of the report this morning and was unable to respond in detail. He also chided the ACLU, saying the media had received the report before the department. Timoney said that he and the department's lawyers "will review the report" and that he will be prepared to provide a detailed response with updated statistics next week.
Presser is the principal author of the audit. He addressed reporters at a press conference at the ACLU's headquarters on Ninth Street near Chestnut. Police officials were expected to respond after the news conference.
"More African-Americans than Caucasians are being subjected to insufficiently justified stops," Presser said in an interview before the press conference.
The audit, filed in U.S. District Court at 9 a.m. Thursday, is one of five monitoring reports completed since 1996 when the city fended off a pending civil-rights lawsuit by agreeing to 21 reforms within the police department.
This morning's audit comes among nationwide controversy about racial profiling, including the allegations here and in New Jersey where evidence has mounted in the past that State Police disproportionately targeted black and Latino drivers.
According to the audit, out of 4,698 reports of vehicle and pedestrian stops reviewed from July 1999, blacks compromised 60 percent of the stops while they constitute only 42.2 percent of the city's population. By contrast, Caucasians comprised 36.5 percent of the stops while they constitute 54.1 percent of the population.
Specifically, the report notes that the rate of black pedestrian stops in Districts 3 (South Philadelphia) and 8 (Far Northeast) is double the district's population of black residents.
Districts 24 (Juniata Park and Harrogate) and 2 (Lower Northeast, west of Roosevelt Boulevard) are 13.7 and 22.9 times respectively the black population while vehicle stops are 17 and 37 percent respectively.
Populations of blacks in those districts are extremely low.
"The fact that African-Americans are being stopped at such rates raises profoundly troubling concerns," the report said.
The report also alleges that 36 percent of all minorities stopped and detained were done so without legal justification.
The last report, released in April 1999, looked at stops in 1997 and found similar disparities as well as inaccurate and vague reporting that officials say continues to be a problem.
The 1996 settlement was, in part, designed to protect the civil rights of minorities and improve practices within the department.
In the mid-1990s, after one of the most scandal plagued eras in the department's history, Philadelphia police were fending off the federal lawsuit as a result of hundreds of arrests in portions of North and Northwest Philadelphia.
According to court documents, black and Latino residents were stopped without justification and illegally detained.
Officers also were sent to prison for writing bogus warrants and beating up and framing citizens. Over the years, scores of convictions were overturned and millions of dollars were paid out to settle cases of police misconduct.
To suspend the suit pending in 1996, the city reached a settlement, outlined in federal court, in which the 6,000-officer department was to make the 21 separate changes.
The reforms included diversity training, a review of policies and practices, and the monitoring and documentation of racial-related activity, including the hiring and promotion of minorities.
The settlement also required the unprecedented scrutiny of the police department that allowed civil-rights lawyers with the ACLU, NAACP, and the Police-Barrio Relations Project to review records and the inner workings of the department that the public rarely sees.
"The police continue to detain pedestrians and motorists without constitutional justification, and the pattern of such detentions in particular districts raises troubling issues regarding whether or not police target pedestrians and motorists because of skin color," said the 29-page audit.
"We believe that the police department has made some good faith efforts to deal with the serious problems of racially discriminatory policing.
"Unfortunately, the data that we have reviewed and analyzed below demonstrates continuing patterns of such impermissible conduct and the department will have to be even more pro-active if we are to achieve the kind of system that the settlement agreement and the constitution mandate."
The audit also questioned if stops were being reported as required and suggested that "It is highly likely that the non-recorded stops involve unjustified police actions."
When the reforms were announced in 1996, civil-rights attorneys joined then-Police Commissioner Richard Neal and former Mayor Ed Rendell in promising change.
In the summer of 1999, the department changed the form used to record pedestrian and vehicle stops. It was then called a 75-48.
Under the direction of current Police Commissioner Timoney, and with input from the ACLU, the report was made much larger and contains blocks for more information, including why the person was stopped. It is now known as a 75-48A and is in use throughout the department.
For his part, Presser said that in the past he has been a big supporter of Timoney, but that has changed.
"Given what we uncovered in this audit, I have to question both his will and his ability to implement the changes he has promised," said Presser.