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Is Philly's 'Stop and Frisk' Racial Profiling?

By Laura Strachan, Esq. on November 10, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Stop and frisk sounds more like a trendy dance move or a board game than a form of racial profiling. But that is exactly what some critics are claiming the real purpose behind Philly's stop and frisk approach to law enforcement is. The Philadelphia stop and frisk policy has now become the center of a civil rights lawsuit, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The suit claims that in 2009, 72% of pedestrians that were stopped under the policy were African American. "Implicitly, the message is to make as many stops as you can and hopefully you will find something," said one attorney working on the case. The purpose behind the Philly stop and frisk policy was to decrease the rising crime rate on the streets. Although officers were trained, the suit alleges that the behavior of the force seems to ignore the training.

Stop and frisk is a type of law enforcement in which an officer, without a search warrant, is allowed to stop an individual and conduct a "pat down" of his body to determine if he or she is carrying any type of contraband (i.e. guns, drugs, etc). However, just because an officer does not need a warrant does not mean that the selection can be capricious.

An officer still needs to have "reasonable suspicion" of illegal activity. The more in-depth the search (for example, a search of pockets), the higher the showing and belief must be. The large disparity between the races being searched is the main argument of the suit. The suit brought by the ACLU is not over the general policy, but the manner in which Philadelphia officials are conducting it.

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