Amid rising violence, a look inside the possible return of stop-and-frisk in Philadelphia 

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After the city issued an eviction notice Sanitation department workers clean up remainders of what started as an Abolish ICE protest camp, near City Hall, in Center City Philadelphia, PA, On July 31, 2018. Mayor Jim Kenney announced last week to not renew a contract of the city that ends a program known as PARS
 (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
After the city issued an eviction notice Sanitation department workers clean up remainders of what started as an Abolish ICE protest camp, near City Hall, in Center City Philadelphia, PA, On July 31, 2018. Mayor Jim Kenney announced last week to not renew a contract of the city that ends a program known as PARS (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Philadelphia endured more than 560 homicides last year, a record high.

“There are places in the city where people are afraid for their own lives every day, afraid for lives of their children, of their neighbors," Sammy Caiola, gun violence prevention reporter at WHYY, says.

"And people are starting to see it as inevitable, just part of the fabric of being a Philadelphian.”

Now, some city officials are calling for the return of a controversial policing tactic: stop-and-frisk.

Today, On Point: Can a stop and frisk that doesn't violate civil rights exist? What would it look like? And would it work for Philadelphia?


Sammy Caiola, gun violence prevention reporter at WHYY. (@SammyCaiola)

Shira Scheindlin, former judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Since retiring in 2016, she’s been serving as a private arbitrator, mediator and special master.

Councilman Isaiah Thomas, at-large member of Philadelphia City Council. Chair of the Streets Committee and Vice Chair of the Children and Youth Committee.

Also Featured

Tyrique Glasgow, founder of the Young Chances Foundation. A gun violence survivor.

Show Transcript

TYRIQUE GLASGOW: I remember when my uncle was murdered. And it was an early morning. And I was at my grandmother's house, and I remember hearing her scream. I never heard my grandma voice like that ever in my life.

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Tyrique Glasgow was eight years old when his uncle was murdered in Philadelphia. Tyrique was raised by his grandmother, a woman of faith. He says she prayed for strangers as much as she prayed for her own daughter.

GLASGOW: My grandma raised us in the church, and every time I would hear her voice, it was a song. ... Her acknowledging, sometimes testifying to some of the trials and tribulations that she'd been through, that our family went through, that she just wanted us to overcome. This sound was different. The sound wasn't about bringing hope. ... She was looking for something and it wasn't there.

... I never really got it. Until I grew up, and I understood he was killed in front of his door. He was shot multiple times. And for her, that was a boy. All I remember her saying was, Why?

CHAKRABARTI: That was 1992. Even then, violence wasn't new in Tyrique’s Philly neighborhood, and it certainly wasn't new to his family. Three of Tyrique’s cousins had been killed in just 115 month period. Tyrique eventually got pulled into the violence, too. He began selling drugs at 15, and after graduating high school, he made the streets his home.

GLASGOW: I really didn't have the safety net, best safe place for myself to go to. So I went out and I tried to find it in the streets. I was good with numbers. I was good with dealing with people. I knew how to connect. And I grew up around a lot of influential Italians, and people in our community who had those connections in the streets.

CHAKRABARTI: On May 1st, 2004, Tyrique got a phone call. Someone told him his sister was involved in a fight. By the time he got there, the crowd had scattered. But later that day:

GLASGOW: I see one of the individuals walking down the street. And for me, I was still in, you know, I could fight. So I got out of the car and I wanted to fight and I was shot.

CHAKRABARTI: He was shot 11 times. Shot in the leg and arms. In his back, in his head. Tyrique spent six days in the hospital. And yes, having scars from 11 bullet holes in his body humbled him.

GLASGOW: But there's also a badge of honor when you're in the streets and get shot and to come back, so to say.

CHAKRABARTI: Tyrique says growing up, it was impossible to hear anything beyond the siren song of that violent street culture. The only thing that cut through it for him was prison. In 2007, he was convicted of manufacturing and dealing drugs. Tyrique was sentenced to five years.

GLASGOW: When I was in jail, it really woke me up. Because when you're out and you're out in the street ... you think that everything is reality. ... You think that you're doing everything right. You think you're doing stuff to benefit the welfare of your family. The welfare of yourself. When in reality, it's a nightmare. When I went to jail, it was like God gave me a reset. Like ... take this as a time out. You're getting shot. You're being arrested six, seven times. It's violence going on. You're losing family members left and right. I'm going to sit you down, because I understand. I have a bigger purpose.

CHAKRABARTI: Tyrique was released from prison in 2012. That same year, he founded the Young Chances Foundation to help at-risk youth in South Philadelphia. Around that same time, Philly's homicide rate actually began trending down. From 2013 to roughly 2017, the city recorded its lowest homicide rates in decades. But then the numbers began to rise. Last year, Philadelphia recorded its highest homicide rate ever, 562 murders. Tyrique Glasgow says fear is spreading across the entire community.

GLASGOW: Our three main people is our children, our seniors and our community at whole. If a child can't walk to school without being murdered, it's a problem. ... It's a concern when our seniors can't go to the supermarket to shop in peace, and to have a good day without being assaulted, robbed or even shot. These are the things that challenge us every day in our community. ... I have never met a person who said, I want to live like this. I want to live in violence.

No, they want their kids to go to good schools. They want to have a good job. They want to want to have a home that they could come to that's taken care of. That's not around gun violence, or hearing gunshots or three-year-old's being murdered. Or kids walking to school being shot. Those are not the stories that you hear. The story is, I just want to get my kids out of here. I just want these young boys to stop it. I don't know what's gotten into these young girls. These are the concerns that you hear every day.

CHAKRABARTI: This is On Point. I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. And that was Tyrique Glasgow, founder of the Young Chances Foundation. Now, last year, as homicides soared, Philadelphia's District Attorney, Michael Krasner told reporters, quote, We don't have a crisis of lawlessness. We don't have a crisis of crime. We don't have a crisis of violence. End quote.

Well, that drew a scathing response from Philly's former mayor, Democrat Michael Nutter. He said, quote, I have to wonder what kind of messed up world of white wokeness Krasner is living in, while he advances his own national profile as a progressive district attorney.

That's what Nutter wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer. And he went on saying, If he actually cared about Philadelphia's Black and brown communities, he'd understand that the homicide crisis is what is plaguing us the most. End quote.

In fact, Black Philadelphians are the majority of homicide victims in Philadelphia. Of the 562 people killed there last year, 80% were Black. 70% of all Philly's homicide victims over a 30 year period were Black, though they make up slightly more than 40% of the city's population. Philadelphia is on track to have a similarly deadly year this year. That's led some elected leaders to resurrect a highly controversial idea. Earlier this month, City Council President Darrell Clarke suggested bringing back a version of the policing tactic known as stop-and-frisk.

DARRELL CLARKE [Tape]: There are a lot of citizens in the streets of the city of Philadelphia to talk about, when are we going to look at stop-and-frisk in a constitutionally enacted way?

CHAKRABARTI: A constitutionally enacted stop-and-frisk. That's what we're going to look at today. What exactly does that mean? What would it look like in practice? Can a constitutional stop and frisk even exist? Critics say no. They say any version of the tactic is a fundamental violation of civil rights. Well, let's start with Sammy Caiola. She's the gun violence prevention reporter at WHYY in Philadelphia. Sammy, welcome to On Point.

SAMMY CAIOLA: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So first of all, tell me, what are lifelong Philadelphians whom you've spoken with telling you about the amount of gun violence, the number of homicides the city experienced last year?

CAIOLA: I've done a lot of listening in communities that are highly impacted by gun violence. And I want to be clear. These are neighborhoods sort of scattered across the city that have been disinvested in. They've seen real declines in just the state of the environment where they live. And it's corresponded with the rise in shootings. And they say it's been a drastic change over the last decade. They used to feel safe. They used to go out. They used to gather. Their children used to, you know, run free around the neighborhood.

And now there is a much more felt state of fear. And that makes sense. Looking at the numbers, you know, there's been an almost doubling of homicides since, you know, the 2017 period. You know, last year was a record year. And we're seeing, you know, more than a homicide a day. Something like 1.5 homicides a day in Philadelphia. So it's just part of life for some people. There is really no sense of safety for them. And I think that's the context for these conversations about the role of policing, and the role of local government. And how do you help people feel able to navigate their own neighborhoods at this point?

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah, so it sounds like it's very much having an impact across the city in just people being able to live their daily lives. I'm looking here at a map from the Office of the Comptroller in Philadelphia that's got a city map that's tracking all shootings, not just homicides, but all shootings. And they are in various neighborhoods across the city. But it also seems as if the violence is particularly concentrated in certain neighborhoods. ... What neighborhoods are they? Are they predominantly Black neighborhoods?

CAIOLA: Yes, these are predominantly Black neighborhoods with lower median incomes than the rest of the city. And, you know, that's where we see the concentration of shootings. But I think as time goes on, we're seeing this problem bleed out. We see shootings in outskirt neighborhoods. We see shootings in suburbs. You know, and it's to the point where it's happening at large public events.

And it's just kind of a ripple. You know, it's the trauma and the fear and the stress of this that is affecting really anybody who lives here. And, you know, for every person that is shot, they've got loved ones, they've got friends, they've got neighbors. You know, every bullet kind of creates this circle of secondary victims. And it's, you know, in many of the neighborhoods you're mentioning, you won't find somebody who has not been touched by gun violence.

Wow. We've got about 30 seconds before our first break. Sammy, can you just quickly tell me, do people in Philadelphia, particularly in the most vulnerable neighborhoods, do they feel like city leadership right now is doing enough?

CAIOLA: Largely, I would say no. I've heard people tell me they feel like the city has put their hands up, that they feel their neighborhoods have been abandoned. And that's everything from, you know, garbage not being picked up, to abandoned vehicles on the streets, to police not having great community relations there. They'd like to see more community policing, police walking the streets, meeting the neighbors. They want to feel that the city cares about them, and is treating this urgently.

CHAKRABARTI: This is On Point. I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. And today, we're talking about why a conversation has begun among some city leaders in Philadelphia to bring back some form of the police tactic known as stop-and-frisk. Specifically, they're talking about a constitutionally enacted stop-and-frisk. Well, what is that? What would it look like in practice? Can such a thing even exist? I'm joined today by Sammy Caiola. She's the gun violence prevention reporter at WHYY in Philadelphia. And Sammy, so it seems as if, from my understanding, Philly has spent, you know, quite a bit of money, several million dollars in gun violence prevention programs.

Given what you said about how the current spate of homicides is is having an impact in various neighborhoods, is it safe to say that those residents don't believe that the money has made much of a difference?

CAIOLA: I think the residents are waiting to see whether the money makes a difference. This is such a deeply rooted problem that it's not going to be fixed overnight. And I think we're going to be tracking for the next several years whether these financial investments are being used effectively, whether they're being used for solutions that are actually informed by the community.

You know, something that we're seeing is a lot of funding being given directly to nonprofits so that they can  do this work where they live as trusted messengers there, which, you know, hopefully will make a difference in the long run. But I think right now there are still some very urgent problems in the neighborhoods that people feel like aren't being addressed immediately.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, yeah, I mean, extremely urgent. 562 people being gunned down, just murdered, last year. And it seems as if the city's on track to at least match potentially that number this year. Now, the reason why I asked about the money that has been spent is that's just a means of giving at least a little bit of context that of course, there are lots of efforts going on in Philadelphia, and there have been for years to address the epidemic problem of gun violence.

So it's not as if nothing has been done, which is why this sort of renewed question and conversation over stop and frisk popping up in the city council really drew a lot of attention. Can you just give us the quick story on how and why that happened?

CAIOLA: So I want to acknowledge that I actually have not directly reported on the stop-and-frisk conversation in the city. So I don't know that I can speak right to that, but I will agree with you that there has been so much that's been tried. There are so many projects happening in the nonprofit level, on the academic level and the government level. And there's this feeling ... like nothing is working, that we're all just trying to put together this puzzle that will never finish.

And, you know, it seems to me that the stop-and-frisk conversation is coming out of just this place of like, you know, we need to do something more drastic. We need to take, you know, more emergency type steps. And, you know, we've had some activists call for the National Guard to come to Philadelphia to confront the crisis. So, you know, I think everybody's in this really tense space of, you know, wanting action, but also not wanting to live in a police state. And, you know, you're seeing some people who just don't, you know, don't want the government to get more involved.

They just want to handle it themselves. We can police ourselves. We need to take back the village. We need to rebuild our communities. And then there are others that say we need more investment, we need more action. And so, you know, it's a lot of voices at the table. And it's a very tall order, I think, for those in power in Philadelphia to listen to those voices and try to come up with something that will make a tangible impact on these numbers.

Well. Sammy Caiola, gun violence reporter for WHYY in Philadelphia. Thank you so much for being with us today, Sammy.

CAIOLA: Thanks for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So as we said, we're going to focus on this question of a constitutionally enacted stop-and-frisk, as has been discussed in Philadelphia, at least the idea of it. And we'll get back to Philadelphia's own particular city's history with stop-and-frisk a little later in the show. But let's actually see what lessons can be learned from New York. And joining us now from New York is Shira Scheindlin.

She's a former judge who served on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. And in 2013, Judge Scheindlin ruled on the famous case of Floyd vs. the city of New York. And that was the case where the New York City Police Department stop-and-frisk tactics were found to be unconstitutional, or violated the rights of tens of thousands of New Yorkers who were stopped by New York police, the majority of whom were people of color. So, Judge Scheindlin, welcome to On Point.

SHIRA SCHEINDLIN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So we're going to explore what does a constitutional stop-and-frisk actually mean or could it potentially mean? But give us the backdrop to the Floyd case that you ruled on. Just remind us what was going on in New York that brought the case to your court.

SCHEINDLIN: What was going on in New York is that the number of stops were rising and rising and rising. And by 2011, 686,000 stops were made in one year. And the problem was that a lot of those, most of those, were of people of color. So of the 4.4 million stops that occurred between 2004 and 2012, 52% of those stopped were Black, 31% were Hispanic, only 10% were white. And that did not reflect the population figures, which were different than that. The population was only 23% Black.

So the point is, Blacks were being stopped almost twice as much as whites. Disproportionate. Clearly disproportionate. So a class action lawsuit was brought to say that the stop-and-frisk as practice violated both the Fourth Amendment and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. And that's what I found. There was a trial, a long trial, and I found that as practiced, it did violate both the fourth and 14th Amendment.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, I can't remember. So please correct me if I'm wrong, but I've frequently heard the argument made that in certain cities where the overwhelming number of people who were stopped by police, and we're talking about pedestrian and vehicle stops here, the reason why they are predominantly people of color is that the stops were happening in neighborhoods that were suffering from a higher crime rate, which were often neighborhoods where the majority of the residents were people of color. So it may be disproportionate regarding the demographic makeup of a city like New York overall. But was it disproportionate given where the crime was happening? Did that come up in the Floyd case?

SCHEINDLIN: It did. It did. The argument was that the stop population should reflect the criminal suspect population. That's what the city argued. But that's wrong. Because the stop population are not criminals. They're innocent, because it turned out that 88% of these stops produce absolutely nothing, no further law enforcement action. And as far as obtaining a weapon or any contraband, only 1.5% of the stops produced anything.

So they were mostly dry stops of innocent people. So the question was, was it an effective technique in preventing crime? That's what you have to ask yourself. And it turns out it was not effective. Because when my opinion came out, and the practice of unconstitutional stops ended, and the stops went down from 686,000 to 36,000. Crime did not rise. That was the dramatic statistic. Ending the practice didn't cause a rise in crime. So we have to ask ourselves, using it that way, so broadly, was it effective? But I hope you'll get to ask me, Can it be used constitutionally? And might that be effective?

CHAKRABARTI: Yes, I will definitely ask you that. But again, I just want to give people sort of context so that helps us understand better your answer to that question when I get around to asking it. Because, I mean, my understanding is, is that police were required, even before your ruling, to provide some kind of justification for the stop. So that was their sort of work around about whether it was a constitutional stop or not. What were the justifications they offered?

SCHEINDLIN: Right. So they had a check off form, instead of having to write a narrative where they really would describe what was suspicious. They just had to check a form. And what we we found in the trial is that the most common check off combination was furtive movement and high crime area. And those two were checked off on form, after form after form. But they don't tell you anything. Because when you ask the police officers at the trial, What is a furtive movement? You really got a huge number of funny answers. Walking funny, looking over your shoulder, one guy said stuttering.

And it was really something. Coming in and out of a building, quickly sitting on a park bench. I mean, furtive movement became almost anything the police wanted it to be. And of course, high crime area. You already said, that's targeting certain neighborhoods, where indeed the statistics are high. But putting those two together did not satisfy the constitutional standard. My point is, the community lost all trust in the police because of this vast number of stops, and they were stopping mostly very young Black males.

So we're talking about people 16 to 22, and they couldn't even go to the grocery store without being stopped. Some of the witnesses testified they were stopped six times, eight times, over and over again. And, you know, you might not think it's so terrible to be stopped, but it's intrusive. It's public. Sometimes the stop was followed by a frisk. It's really a very unpleasant and intrusive experience. And it caused great friction between the community and the police.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, the practice of stop-and-frisk, which I'm putting in quotes, cause I'm not sure what else to call it, as a policing practice. To be clear, it's a judicially sanctioned practice, right?

SCHEINDLIN: There's a Supreme Court case, Terry vs. Ohio, more than 50 years ago. And in Terry vs. Ohio, the court said you can make a stop and you can do a frisk. But in order to make a stop, a police officer must have, and I'm using a quote now, individualized, reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a crime, is committing a crime, or is about to do so. And there have to be objective facts that support the conclusion, not a mere hunch or speculation.

So that's the point. What can the police officer really point to objectively that tells him that he's concerned that this person is committing, or is about to commit or just committed a crime? And for a frisk, to frisk a stop person, the police have to have reason to suspect that the person is armed and dangerous. And we found that most of the frisks were bad. They had no basis to believe they were armed and dangerous, other than they were young Black males.

CHAKRABARTI: So then let's press ahead with this question of what would a constitutional stop and frisk then potentially look like in practice? So, first of all, for the stop part, I mean, you already talked a little bit about it. But tell me more. How would it satisfy the constitutional bar that you just said was set?

SCHEINDLIN: Well, so you'd have to make up some hypotheticals as we discuss this. I already said you have to have individualized, reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a crime, is committing one or about to. What might that be? You might have a witness who said, Gee, I saw a man in a black leather jacket. He's six foot tall, he's wearing red sneakers. And he just came out of the store with all these, you know, televisions. Okay. If you saw a man that fit that, that's certainly individualized, reasonable suspicion. Or if the police themselves saw somebody rushing out of, who knows what, a supermarket, or jewelry store, running.

And maybe even having some kind of weapon in their hand. That's certainly individualized, reasonable suspicion. So you'd have to discuss the scenarios that would amount to a reasonable suspicion that there's criminal activity afoot, is the word that was used in Terry. So you can do this constitutionally, but if you did, it wouldn't end up with 700,000 stops in one year. It would be the right stops, where you had a reason to believe it. Maybe a tip, maybe a witness. Maybe the police saw the activity themselves.

Those are examples I can think of. But in New York, where stop-and-frisk has now been reformed and is still used, the police officer now has to explain on a form, in a narrative, why did you stop this person? And you have to write out a reason. You can't just check off furtive movement. You have to explain.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. You have to explain. But then that's still after after the fact. And so it sounds like there's officer discretion still involved, of course.

SCHEINDLIN: Absolutely. It's always going to be a judgment call. And I have to say that I believe that police can do stop-and-frisk in a constitutional way, if they're trained correctly, if they're supervised, monitored and disciplined. ... If they do it right, it could be effective. Absolutely. If you know something, see something, have a basis to make that stop, you should make that stop. You shouldn't let that person walk away. That person could be armed and dangerous. So I think that stop-and-frisk should be used, but it has to be used well. And I think the police are perfectly capable of using it well.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. So you talked about what could initiate a stop in a constitutional way, but then there's the frisk part. Should there be even a higher bar there?

SCHEINDLIN: Oh, there is a higher bar. The police have to have reason to believe that the person is armed and dangerous. And that's important. Because the police officer is entitled to worry about his or her own safety. So if they have a reason to believe that this person is armed, they should be allowed to frisk them and get whatever might be there, a knife, a gun, who knows? So one of the things on the check off form had been suspicious bulge. Well, the problem with suspicious bulges is that it often turned out to be a cell phone.

And of course, somebody reached reached in their pocket. They were reaching for their cell phone. But it depends. Maybe the outline of the gun is clear. Maybe an outline of a knife is clear. Maybe a pat down is the right thing to do, because the police officer has to worry about his or her own safety. And of the people around. New York is a busy and crowded city with lots of pedestrians, as is Philadelphia. So we have to worry about who's in the area, as well as the police officer.

CHAKRABARTI: Judge Scheindlin, from what I'm hearing, you describe it, what a constitutional a stop and frisk might look like. It sounds to my ear about what sort of normal police policing should already be. A high degree of evidence required for a reasonable stop. Go ahead.

SCHEINDLIN: Well, the thing is, on an arrest situation, you have to have probable cause to make an arrest. So it's something less than probable cause. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard. I don't want you to think that, gee, you know, he has to have seen the guy walk in the bank and rob the bank. That's too high. That would be probable cause. But reasonable suspicion is less than that. And it is a judgment call. So it's all about training police officers to do the right thing. And not to target people based solely on their race. And that's what we were seeing in New York in the bad days.

CHAKRABARTI: This is On Point. I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. And today we're talking about the conversation going on among some city leaders in Philadelphia about whether or not the city should enact a form of a constitutional stop-and-frisk policing tactic that Philly has had a long history with. But this word constitutional stop-and-frisk is what has really caught our attention.

And, of course, Philadelphia is experiencing a massive surge in its crime and particularly its homicide rate. 562 people murdered in Philadelphia just last year. I'm joined today by Judge Shira Scheindlin. She is a retired judge who used to sit on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. And she, in 2013, ruled on the Floyd vs. the city of New York case, where she ruled that that city's NYPD stop-and-frisk tactics violated the constitutional rights of New Yorkers.

And we've been talking with her about what a constitutional stop-and-frisk might look like. So let's again return to the conversation happening in Philadelphia. On July 5th, when City Council President Darrell Clarke first talked about enacting some kind of constitutional stop-and-frisk, he also addressed why he was calling for that discussion.

DARRELL CLARKE [Tape]: When I talk to people out in the streets of the city of Philadelphia, they want to know what did Ramsey and what did Nutter do when they had those numbers down below 300? And a simple reality is that they used stop-and-frisk. They went too far, people abused it, and the courts had to step in and say, We're shutting this down. But the question is, do you do it in a way for cause, right? Because it has to be for cause, because this is America.

You can't just simply decide you want to stop somebody. Look, I'm a 6-foot-3 Black guy, right? I take this suit off and I'm walking down Cecil B. Moore Avenue, I'm likely to be stopped. I'm likely to have a cop look at me two, three times. Right. That's reality, right?

But that's a conversation we're going to have to have. Because you can't have an environment where everybody is carrying a gun, an illegal gun. So let's have the conversation. Let's have real people involved in a conversation and let's figure out what we're going to do.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, joining us now from Philadelphia is Councilman Isaiah Thomas. He is an at-large member of the Philadelphia City Council. Councilman Thomas, welcome to On Point.

ISAIAH THOMAS: Thank you, and thank you for having me. I appreciate being a part of this conversation.

CHAKRABARTI: So you've also been doing a lot of work for years on violence prevention and equitable policing in Philadelphia. So what was your first response when you heard what Council President Clarke had said?

THOMAS: I know the council president, and I understand his passion as it relates to the gun violence problem, the gun violence crisis that we're facing in the city of Philadelphia. And I understand where he's coming from, as it relates to the importance of having a conversation about what police are doing currently, what's taking place and what methods we're using to address crime. But more importantly, what direction we go in in the future.

Because clearly what we're doing right now and what we have been doing as of recently is not working. Because we're not putting a dent in the crime, and we're seeing it move actually in the opposite direction. So I 100% respect the council president's his passion. I understand that this is an emotional time. We're all frustrated. And I think it's important that police and other parties have conversations about what we're doing, what we're not doing, and what can we do to address this gun violence crisis.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, you've been listening along throughout the hour thus far. So you heard what Judge Scheindlin was describing as a form of stop-and-frisk that might clear constitutional bars. Do you think what you heard would be plausible for Philadelphia?

THOMAS: Well, what I heard from the judge, I think is important. And it speaks to the legality of what we can and cannot do. Every state has different laws and different guidelines on what can be done, and what cannot be done. So for us in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, over the last three years or so, we've had a number of state Supreme Court rulings that has limited what can be done by law enforcement as it relates to searches, stops, as well as other means of trying to address this conversation around stop-and-frisk.

So for us, police officers are very limited in what they can do. And it would be very difficult for police officers in the city of Philadelphia to operate what we're calling constitutional stop-and-frisk based on what stop-and-frisk has been traditionally. Now, when a judge talks about some of the ideas around reasonable suspicion, you know that to us as policing. That's part of the job and that's part of what needs to be done.

When I think about stop-and-frisk, when some of my contemporaries think about stop-and-frisk, we think about the idea of giving law enforcement the power to be able to look at you. And say, you look guilty, you look suspicious without any reasonable suspicion, but just going off of their own instincts. And that being enough to pull somebody over to stop a pedestrian and to search that person. And we do not believe that that is the best method to address the crime that we're seeing in the city of Philadelphia.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Judge Scheindlin, I'm going to come back to you in just a moment. But let me ask you first, Councilman Thomas, have you been stopped and frisked by Philly police in your lifetime?

THOMAS: In my lifetime, absolutely. I thought you were going to say this year, but in my lifetime, absolutely. I've been stopped. I've been stopped more times than I can count. When folks talk about, you know, what have we done in the past? You know, I was one of those folks who grew up as a teenager, and somebody in my young twenties when stop-and-frisk was the most prevalent.

So I know what that type of policing and that police style does. I know what it did to my perception of law enforcement, as well as a lot of my contemporaries. And when you look at some of the issues that we have around hiring police officers right now in the city of Philadelphia, clearly we're going through the great resignation, not just in Philadelphia, but all across the country as we come out of this COVID situation.

It's called a crisis. But at the end of the day, I think that some of the issues that we're facing is because of the tainted relationships that a lot of folks in my generation have as it relates to law enforcement, because of so many negative interactions growing up.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, just to give folks a little bit more background on the history that Philadelphia has with stop-and-frisk, I'll focus for a moment on the years that former Philly Mayor Michael Nutter was in office. There was a huge number of stops. I think by the time near when Nutter left office, there was something like 800,000 in one year.

That, along with other policing, changes in violence prevention, you did see a dip in the homicide rate, but that massive number of stops did end up in court. And actually, even before that, in 2010, the city was sued by the Pennsylvania ACLU. And coming out of that was something called the Bailey Agreement, which stipulated that Philly police had to have, quote, reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct in order to make a stop, and that frisks should be undertaken, quote, only when there is reasonable suspicion that the person stopped is armed and dangerous. Now, Judge Scheindlin, that sounds exactly like what you were describing about 10 minutes ago to me.

SCHEINDLIN: It does, indeed. It's exactly the words that I used, and also the words the councilman just used about the bad relationship between the community and the police that grew out of these enormous numbers of stops. That's why it had to end. I'm for a lot of police presence. That's one thing Philadelphia can do. The police force should actually be increased, not decreased. There should be presence, but the presence should mean a good relationship with the community, where they can work together to reduce crime, where people will tell the police officer, Gee, this is what's been going on.

I think this guy is selling drugs. I think, you know, a tip. If the community worked with the police, things would get better. So I think there's a way to do effective policing and mass and broad stop-and-frisk is not the way to do effective policing, but targeted stop-and-frisk is still a good idea. It's good policing.

CHAKRABARTI: Targeted. And Councilman Thomas, I'll turn this one to you. It sounds to me that based on what's in place from that 2010 Bailey agreement, about the very narrow conditions under which Philly police can do a stop. Plus, you know, as you said, from a year or two ago, the prohibition against those so-called quality of life stops, where people were getting stopped and frisked for just panhandling on a street corner. All these things are already in place. So I'm not sure what could be expanded, or how might the targeting change to work in Philadelphia. Do you see what I'm saying?

THOMAS: I do. And that's why I'm concerned as well, too. When you think about the 2019 Supreme Court ruling for the Commonwealth vs. Hicks, Commonwealth vs. Perfetto. ... Commonwealth vs. Alexander in 2020. These are all cases that puts us in a position as it relates to Supreme Court ruling for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that limits what it is that police officers can and cannot do, as it relates to vehicle and pedestrian stops.

So at the end of the day, when there is some type of a probable cause, when there is some type of reasonable suspicion, in my mind, I don't call it stop-and-frisk. I call that police officers being police officers, similar to what the judge said. When we're talking about a police presence in neighborhoods, we are all for community policing in the city of Philadelphia.

We want to see patrol officers walking neighborhoods and talking to constituents, developing relationships, understanding the difference between model citizens in a particular community and the small percentage of people who don't necessarily move and operate as model citizens. So whenever I hear the idea of constitutional stop-and-frisk, it's not that I'm not open to the conversation. I think that as an elected official that represents the entire city, I'm obligated to come to the table and look to collaborate.

Even if the idea introduced initially is not something that I necessarily agree with. It's my responsibility as an elected official to still come to the table. I'm just curious, from a legal perspective, you know, what are we calling a constitutional stop-and-frisk in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, specifically in the city of Philadelphia, that does not put us in a position where we're not adhering to Supreme Court rulings specifically related to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

SCHEINDLIN: This constitutional standard that you described in Pennsylvania is the same as what the U.S. Supreme Court said. But the current U.S. Supreme Court handed down a terrible decision this term in Brooklyn, the case that said there can be no restriction on carrying guns, you know, concealed or not concealed, it's a terrible thing. So I think we're going to see even more guns on our streets all over the country.

And I have to express my outrage at that decision. It's bad for everybody and we can't close our eyes to that. So while you cite good decisions that limit police conduct in an important way, so that people of color are not discriminated against and stopped wrongly as you were when you were a kid. That's wrong. And that can't come back. It can't come back.

But good policing, as you said, based on reasonable suspicion, is a good thing. And with the flood of guns that we're going to see, we're in trouble in this country. As we know, we don't go a day without reading about a mass shooting.

THOMAS: I agree with the judge. I think the judge is absolutely on point with that.

CHAKRABARTI: We've got about 5 minutes left, and I want to talk a little bit more about what could be done right now for the people in, you know, the neighborhoods that you grew up in and represent, Councilman Thomas. Because as you heard a little earlier, the description that it's so bad in certain places that it's really touching every aspect of of life in these Philly neighborhoods. So I was looking at a quote from Don Jackson, who runs an intervention group in Philly called Urban Navigation. And here's what he said.

He wants the Philadelphia mayor to call a state of emergency. He wants them to reinstate random stops to look for guns. Guns specifically, not random stops for other things, for outstanding warrants, etc. And he said this probably wouldn't hold up in court. He acknowledges that. But Don Jackson said he's convinced that if they stop between 1,000 and 1,500 people, I guarantee you there will be less firearms on the streets. That's what he was quoted as saying in a report from WHYY.

And the reason why I point that out is because it does feel like there is an emergency going on right now in these neighborhoods. And it is understandable that people want some equally urgent action and that, you know, long-term gun violence prevention programs, they can't wait for that, while their loved ones are being gunned down.

THOMAS: I agree with the sense of urgency. I was one of the council members who co-sponsored legislation that called on the mayor to call for a state of emergency as it relates to gun violence. But I want to be very clear, there are some long term systemic problems that we have in the city of Philadelphia, like poverty, like failing schools. That puts us in a position where we have a cycle in a system that continues to oppress the same people in the same neighborhoods.

But in the short-term, I do want to be clear. Even when we had 300 homicides a year, that's way too much. So I would hate to look at what we did when we had 300 homicides a year and try to replicate that as if that number is acceptable. In my mind, that number is not acceptable at all either. I grew up in the city of Philadelphia. I've lived here my entire life, and we've almost always had a crime problem.

So at the end of the day, there are some things that we can do right now, in the short term, to address the crisis that we're facing. But I do want to be very clear. One of the things that make the gun violence crisis and the crime crisis in Philadelphia is so heartbreaking, and I'm not trying to say one life is more valuable than other, but what we're seeing is the culprits, as well as the victims, are younger and younger and younger.

Younger than I've ever seen in my lifetime. My father is 72, younger than he has ever seen in his lifetime. And at the end of the day, these are young people that are not old enough to operate a vehicle. These are young people who do not necessarily have hair on their face and might not fit a quote-unquote description. So at the end of the day, when you're looking at the crime crisis that we're facing in the city of Philadelphia, it's a complex problem that requires short-term and long-term solutions.

But we have to be innovative. This is 2022. We can't look at what we did in 1992 and 2002 and think that's going to apply today when we're dealing with, you know, conflicts on social media, in the phenomenon of ghost guns, like these are new problems. So with new problems, we need to have new solutions.

And there's nothing wrong with having ... a moment where we look at the past and learn from what we've done. But at the end of the day, we can't rely on the past and past practices to essentially operate a paint brush and swipe all of our problems away.

Unfortunately, that's not the solution. And at the end of the day, I am confident that we will begin to implement short-term and long-term solutions to address the gun violence crisis in a crime crisis.

SCHEINDLIN: And again, I want to jump in. I agree with the councilman completely and what you have to focus on with those random stops where that guy said, if you stop 1,500 people, you'll get all the guns. It didn't work. That kind of random broad stop-and-search was ineffective policing. So you have to think about effective techniques, not ineffective techniques.

This program aired on July 27, 2022.


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Jonathan Chang Producer/Director, On Point
Jonathan is a producer/director at On Point.


Headshot of Meghna Chakrabarti

Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.


Tim Skoog Sound Designer and Producer, On Point
Tim Skoog is a sound designer and producer for On Point.



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