From 2007 to 2021, there were 5,478 homicides in Philadelphia. In our city, one person died every day for 14 years. Although our city is diverse and 40% black, black neighbors bore the brunt of these homicides. As a result, the city council put together a multi-agency task force to examine the problem, producing a report examining the city's homicide rate and gun violence. The report refers to this as a “racial justice crisis,” pointing out that 80% of the homicide victims are black men between the ages of 18 and 35.
Along with an increase in violence typically comes an increase in aggressive policing, particularly in neighborhoods most affected by the crisis. But in Philadelphia, more intense policing increased the rate of police stops that involved the controversial “stop and frisk” policing technique. A December 2022 story from WHYY examines the history of stop-and-frisk policies in Philadelphia and the racial profiling involved.
The Birth of Stop & Frisk
A “stop and frisk” is a policing technique where officers briefly stop a suspect for a pat down of their outer clothing if they have reasonable suspicion that the individual is about to or has committed a crime. The technique, also called a Terry stop, came from the Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio. See 392 U.S. 1 (1968). In Terry, the court held that a stop and frisk must comply with the Fourth Amendment, meaning it must be reasonable. A Terry stop is only reasonable if a “reasonably prudent officer is warranted in the circumstances of a given case in believing that his safety or that of others is endangered, he may make a reasonable search for weapons of the person believed by him to be armed and dangerous.”
Does Stop & Frisk Work?
While the “stop and frisk” technique may prevent crimes from happening or lead to arresting some people engaged in illegal activities, whether these stops keep communities safer is the subject of much debate. But we know that Terry stops are fraught with racial bias in their implementation. According to a 2020 ACLU report, black individuals made up 71% of stops in Philadelphia in the second half of 2019, even though only 40% of the population in Philly is black. The ACLU estimated that about 30% of stop and frisks were happening without reasonable suspicion.
In our next post, we'll discuss the harm that “stop and frisk” can cause in black communities and alternatives to keep our communities safe.
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