PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A federal judge this week approved a settlement to a federal class action that accused Philadelphia police of targeting black and Latino men for unconstitutional searches on the street.
The practice, colloquially known as "stop and frisk," was the subject of a November 2010 class action
brought by eight black and Latino men against the city and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
Those men, which included an attorney, a University of Pennsylvania ethnographer and a state lawmaker, claimed that they were baselessly stopped - either while driving or as pedestrians - and in some cases taken into police custody, primarily because of the color of their skin.
Some of the stops resulted in minor charges - failure to disperse, driving with overly tinted windows - that were subsequently dismissed, according to the suit.
In other cases, no formal charges were brought, court papers show.
U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell certified a class in the settlement agreement signed Tuesday, and said qualified members of the class can sue for damages.
The Philadelphia Police Department has weathered similar accusations of racial profiling and other discriminatory conduct in past years.
A 1996 settlement in NAACP et al. v. City of Philadelphia
brought about sweeping changes aimed at addressing alleged racially biased policing. That case involved minority Philadelphians claiming that they were targeted for improper narcotics charges and were subjected to police brutality.
Hundreds of convictions were overturned and the city agreed to pay over $6 million to the wrongfully accused, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped litigate the "stop and frisk" suit.
As part of the 1996 settlement, data from thousands of pedestrian and car stops was analyzed to ensure that minority Philadelphians would no longer be subjected to unconstitutional race-based policing.
But "The data compiled by the City continued to show lack of cause for stops, frisks and detentions, and a highly racially disparate impact on African-Americans and Latinos through to 2005, when monitoring of the 1996 Agreement terminated," according to the 2010 suit.
That suit claimed that stop-and-frisks actually increased since 2005, and accused the city's top cop, Commissioner Ramsey, of failing to properly train and supervise his officers to put a conclusive end to the police department's racial profiling.
A consent decree filed Tuesday attempts to do just that.
The settlement calls for establishment of an elaborate, digital-monitoring regime aimed at affording supervisors within and outside the police department the ability to scrutinize the city's stop-and-frisk practices.
The department will maintain "an electronic data base that provides the parties with access to digitized information that is sufficient to enable the parties to conduct electronic data analysis with respect to legality of the stops and frisks," according to the settlement.
"Further, the City shall train PPD [Philadelphia Police Department] officers with respect to the electronic data base system and their responsibilities to record the relevant information for each stop and frisk."
The parties have also "agreed not to litigate the constitutionality of past stop and frisk practices, and they enter into this Agreement to implement measures to ensure future compliance with constitutional standards."
Additionally, "Stops and frisks shall not be permissible, without limitation, where the officer has only anonymous information of criminal conduct, or because the person is only 'loitering' or engaged in 'furtive movements,' or is acting 'suspiciously,' or for the purpose of 'investigation of person' ... or ... [on the basis that] the person is in a 'high crime' or 'high drug' area," according to the settlement.
The settlement also requires that a monitor be appointed to provide ongoing supervision and analysis of the police department's stop-and-frisk practices and to issue recommendations to the court.
JoAnne Epps, dean of Temple University's Beasley School of Law, will serve as that monitor, plaintiffs' counsel, David Rudovsky of Kairys Rudovsky Messing & Feinberg, told Courthouse News.
Seven of the eight named plaintiffs will split $115,000 in damages, Rudovsky said.
The other named plaintiff, a former state lawmaker who has since won the Democratic primary in the race for Philadelphia sheriff, will reportedly not receive damages.
Rudovsky said that the 1996 settlement was effective, but was not open-ended, and that its safeguards eroded when it was terminated around 2005.
This time around, he said, "the agreement is open-ended. There's no [scheduled] termination."