10 Years Later: An Update on the Bailey Litigation

David Rudovsky recently appeared on WHYY’s podcast, The Why: Philly Explained, to provide a brief history of Bailey v. City of Philadelphia, a federal class action lawsuit filed in 2011 by KRFML, in partnership with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, alleging a pattern of stops and frisks without legal justification and of systemic racial bias in the City of Philadelphia’s stop-and-frisk practices. Click here to listen to the podcast, and see below for a summary of the interview:

In 1968, The Supreme Court ruled in Terry v. Ohio that a police officer is permitted to make a stop as long as there is “reasonable suspicion” that a suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. While the Fourth Amendment generally requires “probable cause” for an arrest or search, the lower standard of reasonable suspicion was thought to be sufficient given the limited nature of the intrusion. The Terry ruling laid the groundwork for the widespread adoption of stop-and-frisk policies across the United States and for more proactive policing.

The Philadelphia Police Department actively engaged in these practices and by 2009, with over 260,000 reported stops, had surpassed every other major city in the number of stops per capita. There were numerous complaints by City residents of repeated illegal stops, predominantly from areas of the City with high numbers of Black and Latino residents. The data confirmed the first-hand accounts: while minority residents comprised approximately 50% of the City’s population, they accounted for nearly 90% of stops. Close to 50% of the stops and frisks were being made without even a showing of reasonable suspicion. And the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk in preventing violent crime was negligible: on average, for every 100 frisks, only 1 firearm was found. 

In 2010, KRMFL, in partnership with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, filed the Bailey lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia alleging racial bias in the City’s stop-and-frisk policy. In 2011, the parties reached a settlement agreement. As part of the settlement, the Philadelphia Police Department was ordered to provide additional training and supervision for law enforcement officials. Additionally, the City agreed to build an electronic database to document all civilian stops, with quarterly audits from KRMFL and an independent monitor.  

Even after the initial settlement agreement, there was continued resistance from the PPD to any fundamental change in policy. Indeed, for nearly ten years, city officials denied that racial disparities were indicative of clear racial bias. The disparities, officials claimed, could be explained by other factors such as higher crime rates and larger officer presence in predominantly Black communities. With the election of Mayor Kenney in 2015, we started to see some significant improvements in the quality of stops, with about 80% of the stops now conforming to Fourth Amendment standards.

Finally, in the summer of 2020, the City admitted that stop-and-frisk’s disparate racial impact was evidence of racial bias and accepted the need for remedial measures. KRMFL is working with City officials to institute meaningful policy changes. KRMFL has proposed a ban on all “quality of life” stops – encounters that have a disproportionate impact on minority residents – for infractions such as littering, open containers, and other minor offenses. In addition, KRMFL has proposed a system of transparent and progressive discipline for officers and their supervisors who continue to make stops without reasonable suspicion. We continue to negotiate these and other remedial measures with the City, and we expect that the Court will order comprehensive reform measures in 2021. 

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