PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Police Department has made its most progress on stop-and-frisk practices in the six years since it entered a consent decree ordering the agency to make improvements, according to the latest reports on the issue filed Tuesday in federal court by the city and a group of civil rights lawyers.
According to the reports, there was a 35 percent decrease in the number of stops for 2016 as compared to 2015. In the second half of 2016, 3 out of 4 stops were supported by reasonable suspicion, compared to 67 percent in 2015. Nearly 60 percent of frisks were supported by reasonable suspicion, compared to 43 percent the previous year.
Still, officers stopped roughly 140,000 people in 2016 — including 35,000 who were stopped illegally.
Attorney David Rudovsky said the latest report shows progress, but expressed concerns that thousands of people are still being illegally stopped in the city.
"This year was the first year the department started to hold officers accountable," Rudovsky said. "On the one hand, we congratulate the city to the extent they've reduced the number of bad stops ... but we're still left with a very large number of people who are not being treated properly by the police in the city of Philadelphia."
Commissioner Richard Ross acknowledged his department has "a ways to go" on changing the culture around police stops.
"Nobody here is claiming victory," Ross said at a news conference Tuesday. "We're talking about a paradigm shift, but it's one we're willing to make."
Both parties will issue another report on May 16 analyzing the racial disparities in the data. According to Tuesday's report, over 77 percent of the stops in 2016 were of blacks or Latinos. While racial disparities are not always evidence of racial bias, previous reports have found patterns of disparities for minorities.
City officials and civil rights lawyers pointed to new accountability measures put in place last year as a key to the drop. In February 2016, a federal judge warned the city that if they did not make "rapid and significant progress," sanctions would be imposed.
The police department is now imposing "progressive discipline for any officers who demonstrate repeated failure to conduct legally sufficient pedestrian stops or who fail to prepare stop-and-frisk reports properly." City officials say more than 50 accountability trainings since 2016 have been held for units or squads that may be performing poorly.
As a result of the latest progress report, the plaintiffs' attorneys will not seek sanctions at this time.
All sides also praised new leadership as a reason for the improvements. Both Ross and Mayor Jim Kenney took office in January of 2016 and signaled that addressing stop-and-frisk would be a priority.
"We still have to investigate crime ... but if the public doesn't trust us, doesn't trust their police, doesn't like their police, then we don't have a safe city," Kenney said. "My goal is that no young, black male going to school or going to work will be stopped because of the color of his skin."
In 2010, a group of civil rights lawyers sued the police department, alleging that officers had a pattern and practice of stopping and searching pedestrians without reasonable suspicion and were disproportionately stopping blacks and Latinos. As part of the consent decree, the department has been subject to routine monitoring.
Consent decrees have come under fire recently after Attorney General Jeff Sessions questioned whether they are needed and criticized previous Justice Departments as placing an undue burden on local law enforcement agencies. Ross said Tuesday that while consent decrees are not desirable, they are necessary in some cases.
"We recognize that there was a need for some change with us," Ross said. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a major city chief that ... doesn't have the sincere desire to do so. We really want to make things better, and the first thing is being able to take that hard look in the mirror and say we've got some things we've got to improve on."
Errin Haines Whack covers urban affairs for The Associated Press. Follow her work on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/emarvelous