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An African-American who is walking or driving in Philadelphia has a much greater chance than a white person of being stopped by police for no reason — especially in a predominantly white neighborhood — according to a report released last Thursday by a group of civil rights lawyers. The report was filed in U.S. District Court last Thursday in the case of NAACP v. City of Philadelphia, a suit that began in the wake of the corruption scandal in the police department’s 39th district, which resulted in the overturning of dozens of convictions due to police perjury. Under the 1996 settlement of the suit, the team of plaintiffs’ lawyers — Stefan Presser, the legal director of the ACLU in Pennsylvania; David Rudovsky of Kairys Rudovsky Epstein Messing & Rau; and Alan L. Yatvin of Popper & Yatvin — were promised access to internal police data so they could monitor the department’s progress in implementing wide-ranging reforms. In the fifth annual report the monitors complain that the department has failed to cure two major problems: illegally stopping pedestrians and drivers without any “reasonable suspicion” and illegally targeting African-Americans. In a prior report, the monitors complained that officers frequently offered no reasons for stopping motorists and pedestrians. As a result, the department modified its form, known as a 75-48(a), and promised to retrain all officers. But last week’s report charges that the problems persist and that Police Commissioner John Timoney failed to take the problems seriously and dragged his feet in making changes. “After reviewing the data, I am concerned as to whether this commissioner [Timoney] has the will or the desire to make the changes promised to my clients,” Presser said. A spokesman in Timoney’s office said the commissioner would have no immediate response because he has not yet reviewed the report but that he will have a full response at a later date. According to last week’s report, the department promised in March 1997 to cure the problem of illegal stops. A memo to all officers stated that “there is no such thing as a routine stop.” But the monitors looked at data from five districts and concluded that about one-third of all police stops lacked any explanation. In 1998, when Timoney took over, the monitors say, he seemed to agree with their claim that the data showed a pattern of constitutional violations. In response to the charge that racial minorities were being stopped at higher rates, Timoney made a videotape, in which both he and then-Mayor Edward Rendell appeared, and which condemned the practice. But Presser complained last week that Timoney’s positive efforts were undercut by his own criticisms of the monitors’ fourth report. Timoney is quoted in the report as saying that the police forms were “so much garbage” and that any statistical analysis that relied on them would be unreliable because of “garbage in, garbage out.” The monitors say they were encouraged by Timoney’s agreement to revise the police forms and to train officers to use them. The new forms require officers to note the race of any person stopped and to describe the reason for the stop. After being field-tested in selected districts, the new forms went into use in all districts in July 2000. In last week’s report, the monitors analyzed data from the first week in which the forms were used city-wide and concluded that while the department has made some progress, the problems identified in 1997 persist. Presser said the total number of police interactions with citizens appears to have dropped. That fact, he said, could be explained by the new form, which requires officers to give a reason for stopping a motorist or pedestrian, thereby discouraging a stop for no reason. But Presser said the data also show that in the stops that are still occurring, police often have an insufficient reason — or, in a handful of cases, still offer no reason at all. About one-third of all stops continue to have an “insufficient explanation,” the report says. “While the new form has forced the department’s officers to provide some (as opposed to no) explanation, it is clear that the form alone cannot change police culture,” the report says. As examples, the report cites one form that showed police stopped one individual for “standing out front of store without purchasing anything” and another that said a group was stopped and then told to move on because the area “was a known drug location” or “frequented by prostitutes.” The report also questions whether the department is recording all stops and says that the impermissible stops may now be invisible because they are not reported. But the strongest criticisms in the report relate to charges that police continue to target minorities, especially in mostly white neighborhoods. “In Caucasian neighborhoods, police look at African-Americans through a lens of suspicion which leads to their being detained at an alarming rate,” Presser said last Thursday. The report says that while African-Americans account for 42.2 percent of the city’s population, they are the subject of 60 percent of all police vehicle stops. By contrast, whites, who constitute 54.1 percent of the population, accounted for just 36.5 percent of car stops. But the report says that the “most troubling” data was found when the statistics of each police district were viewed separately. In neighborhoods where the population is more than 90 percent white, the report says, “African-Americans are being stopped at a rate alarmingly out of proportion to what one would expect.” And only a fraction of the stops result in arrest, the report says. The report includes charts that show the population of each district, broken down by race, and a second set of charts that show the rate at which members of each race are stopped, broken down by district. Four of the districts, the mostly white neighborhoods, show sharp spikes for the rates at which African-American pedestrians and motorists are stopped. “These are fundamentally disturbing findings because they indicate that there are zones within [Philadelphia] … in which African-Americans enter at their peril,” the report says. The monitors conclude that the department must immediately begin retraining officers to cure the pattern of illegal stops and racial profiling. The report was submitted to U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell, who could opt to hold an open hearing with the city’s lawyers to discuss its findings.

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