Gun violence has reached an epidemic in Philadelphia, and the city is struggling to keep people and communities safe. In a recent post, we discussed a story from WHYY about the Philadelphia police department's use of “stop and frisk” to combat the city's gun violence. Unfortunately, the policy disproportionately affects black residents of the city and the black community, suggesting racial bias frequently motivates these stops, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Public Safety Versus Personal Well Being
As crime surged in Philadelphia, often in traditionally black neighborhoods, stop-and-frisk incidents also increased. City officials struggled to balance our communities' safety with individual liberties and autonomy. Cities across the U.S., recognizing the troubling racial bias often inherent in stop-and-frisk policies, have moved away from using these stops as a policing technique. After a report from a multi-agency effort created by Philadelphia to review surging gun violence and homicide came up with 27 recommendations to help stop the violence.
However, this year, after a shooting at an Independence Day festival wounded two officers, a City Council discussion again raised using stop and frisk as a police technique. City Council President Darrell Clarke suggested that the city “rebrand” stop and frisk, stating, “It needs a different name, right? … Because the reality is that when you reference stop-and-frisk, it has a negative connotation. And the bottom line is, it should be a part of the policing strategy that's employed.”
The Harm of Stop & Frisk
“Stop and frisk” involves the police stopping an individual briefly and completing a pat down of their outer clothes, ostensibly to look for weapons. But police aren't supposed to stop a suspect in this manner unless they have “reasonable suspicion” that the person is involved or will imminently be involved in committing a crime. A report from the ACLU indicated that in 2009, the Philadelphia police department was performing more stop and frisks than any police department in the country. Moreover, the report indicated that black and Latino residents accounted for 90% of these stops even though they only make up 50% of the city's population. These stops also rarely uncovered illegal weapons.
Fortunately, many in Philadelphia pushed back against the City Council President's push for reviving the stop-and-frisk. Evidence suggests that the policy also sows distrust for the police, preventing people from coming forward with information about crimes. There is hope that, with better police strategies and investigative techniques, law enforcement agencies can keep our city safer without wreaking havoc on minority communities.
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