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May 07, 2015

ACLU: Ramsey has improved stop-and-frisk in Philadelphia

Assessment comes after Anthony Williams vowed to oust the commissioner if elected

Despite sharp criticism from Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Hardy Williams, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has improved Philadelphia's stop-and frisk-practices according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which initially sued the city over the controversial policing technique.

Williams, during a mayoral debate on Tuesday, said he would replace the commissioner if elected.

If elected “the person who uses stop-and-frisk the most, the current commissioner, would be changed,” vowed Williams, a campaign promise that Mayor Michael Nutter, a longtime supporter of the practice and Ramsey, hotly disputed, saying anyone who would replace Ramsey was "probably not smart enough" to be mayor.

In addition to Nutter, Ramsey, who declined to comment on the controversy, is also getting a good assessment from the ACLU, which had filed a lawsuit against the city in 2010 alleging racial bias in its stop-and-frisk practices. 

“From the beginning, this has not been New York and it has not been New York because Charles Ramsey did not do what former Police Commissioner [Raymond] Kelly did, which is essentially stand up and say ‘I don’t care what your constitutional standard is, my officers are entitled to stop anyone,' ” said ACLU attorney Mary Catherine Roper.

“Here in Philadelphia … they immediately entered into negotiations with us,” she said.

Williams’s campaign said Thursday he wanted a commissioner who aligns with his own vision.

“On the issue of stop-and-frisk, the senator and Commissioner Ramsey do not see eye-to-eye,” said Albert Butler, a spokesman for the Williams campaign in an email. “That is not an indictment of the commissioner, it’s simply a disagreement on what the senator considers a critical issue in restoring the trust between the community and the police.”

Philadelphia entered into a consent decree in 2011. An update on that agreement in February showed there were still problems, according to the ACLU. The organization's report said 37 percent of the approximately 200,000 stops in 2014 were without reasonable suspicion. They also said there was still a racial bias.

Roper said there needed to be more accountability for street level officers and training to help police correct problems.

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Nutter, said the mayor's thinking on stop-and-frisk has not changed.

“It is one of the many tools that the city has used to drive down violent crime,” McDonald said in an email. “Reported violent street crime rates are the driver of where pedestrian stops occur, and the city has worked with outside groups including the ACLU to document and report on its practices.”

Ramsey has also served on President Obama’s task force to improve the relationship between citizens and police. The Task Force on 21st Century policing was created in response to protests over police misconduct and deaths at the hands of police in Cleveland, New York City and Ferguson, Missouri.

Kelvyn Anderson, executive director of the police advisory commission, said Ramsey reacted proactively to criticism.

Not only did Ramsey respond to the ACLU’s suit over stop-and-frisk but he also asked for the Department of Justice to investigate the use of force by Philadelphia police, which resulted in a report that condemned many department policies, Anderson said.

“I think Ramsey has shown himself willing to be exposed to outside scrutiny,” Anderson said.