How Philadelphia Can Avoid the Pitfalls of Stop-and-Frisk?


Philadelphia’s newly elected mayor, Cherelle Parker, has expressed her support for expanding the use of stop-and-frisk, a controversial policing tactic that allows officers to stop, question, and search people based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. However, she has also stressed that she will not tolerate any unconstitutional or discriminatory practices. In this article, we will explore the history, benefits, and challenges of stop-and-frisk and suggest some evidence-based recommendations for its lawful and effective implementation.


What is stop-and-frisk, and why is it controversial?

Stop-and-frisk is a legal tool that was authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968, in the case of Terry v. Ohio. The court ruled that police officers can briefly detain and question someone if they have reasonable, articulable suspicion that the person is involved in criminal activity. If the officers also have reasonable grounds to believe that the person is armed, they can conduct a limited pat-down to check for weapons.

The intended purpose of stop-and-frisk is to prevent crime and protect public safety by allowing officers to intervene before a crime is committed or a weapon is used. However, the practice has also been widely criticized for violating civil rights, especially those of racial and ethnic minorities, who are disproportionately targeted and subjected to humiliating and invasive searches. Studies have shown that stop-and-frisk can erode trust and cooperation between police and communities and have negative psychological and emotional impacts on those who are stopped.

How Has Stop-and-Frisk Been Used in Philadelphia?

Philadelphia has a long history of using stop-and-frisk, dating back to the 1990s. Under the administration of former Mayor Michael Nutter, who took office in 2008, the policy was formally adopted as a crime-fighting strategy, and the number of stops increased dramatically. In 2009, the city recorded more than 250,000 stops, of which 72% involved black people, who make up 44% of the city’s population.

In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), alleging that the department was conducting unconstitutional and racially biased stops. The lawsuit resulted in a consent decree in 2011, which required the PPD to implement reforms, such as collecting and reporting data on stops, providing training and supervision to officers, and establishing an independent monitor to oversee compliance.

Since then, the number of stops has declined significantly, reaching about 76,000 in 2019. However, the racial disparities have persisted, with black people accounting for 69% of the stops in 2019. The monitor has also reported that many stops still lack reasonable suspicion and that the PPD has failed to adequately train and discipline officers who violate the consent decree.

What are the best practices for stop-and-frisk?

As Philadelphia’s new mayor considers expanding stop-and-frisk, she should heed the lessons learned from other cities, such as New York, where the policy was challenged and reformed. Based on the research and recommendations of criminologists and experts, we suggest the following best practices for stop-and-frisk:

  • Define and communicate clear and consistent criteria for stops. Officers should be able to articulate the specific and objective facts that justify their suspicion and avoid relying on vague or subjective factors such as appearance, demeanor, or location. Officers should also explain the reason for the stop to the person being stopped and obtain their consent before searching unless there is an imminent threat to safety.
  • Collect and analyze data on stops and outcomes. The PPD should continue to record and report detailed information on every stop, including the race, gender, and age of the person stopped, the location and time of the stop, the reason and basis for the stop, the type and result of the search, and any use of force or complaint. The data should be regularly reviewed and audited by the monitor and the public to identify and address any patterns of bias, misconduct, or inefficiency.
  • Provide training and feedback to officers. The PPD should ensure that all officers receive adequate and ongoing training on the legal and ethical standards of stop-and-frisk, as well as on the skills and techniques of effective and respectful communication, de-escalation, and conflict resolution. The PPD should also establish a system of performance evaluation and feedback to recognize and reward officers who adhere to the best practices and to correct and discipline officers who violate the policy or the consent decree.
  • Engage and collaborate with the community. The PPD should seek to build trust and legitimacy with the community by soliciting and responding to their input, concerns, and feedback on stop-and-frisk and other policing issues. The PPD should also partner with community organizations, leaders, and residents to develop and implement strategies to prevent and reduce crime, violence, and disorder without relying solely on stop-and-frisk.

By following these best practices, Philadelphia can avoid the pitfalls of stop-and-frisk and ensure that the policy is used in a lawful, effective, and fair manner that respects the rights and dignity of all people and promotes public safety and community well-being.

By Andrea Wilson

Andrea Wilson is a talented junior content and news writer at Scope Sweep. With a passion for writing and a dedication to delivering high-quality content, Andrea has quickly established herself as a valuable contributor to the team. Graduating from the prestigious University of Sydney, she brings a strong academic foundation and a keen eye for detail to her work. Andrea's articles cover a wide range of topics, from breaking news to informative features, ensuring that readers are well-informed and engaged. With her ability to research and present information in a clear and concise manner, Andrea Wilson is committed to providing readers with accurate and captivating content. Stay connected and up-to-date with Andrea's compelling articles on Scope Sweep

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