Philly local questions non-city, agency police stops
One local raised questions after he felt a stop by the Philadelphia Housing Authority police was unjust
Philadelphia Daily News
PHILADELPHIA — Glenn Reed was not shot by police. He wasn't beaten or dragged out of his car during a routine stop gone awry. He has no ready-to-go-viral video to unveil of cops tasing, pepper-spraying or clubbing him.
But the 57-year-old retired city worker from Center City has become an unlikely crusader for police reform after an unpleasant car stop last summer.
Unlike the activists who heap their ire on the Philadelphia Police Department and District Attorney's Office, Reed has a surprising target: the Philadelphia Housing Authority police.
Reed said a PHA officer racially profiled him and stopped him without cause last summer, failed to identify himself as a PHA officer (their uniforms and cars resemble the city's) and resisted Reed's request to call a supervisor. The cop told Reed his car wasn't registered, but that was a lie — the car was a properly registered rental car.
Reed later filed a citizen's complaint that went nowhere and demanded data on PHA car stops, only to be told the agency didn't track stops.
The experience launched Reed on a yearlong mission to reform the 79-officer force, in which he's attended PHA meetings and lobbied lawmakers and PHA officials to demand change.
"My dispute is not whether they can legally stop me," Reed said. "My dispute is that they can't illegally stop me. That's against the Fourth Amendment; you can't stop me without articulable cause."
Reed added: "If you're going to pretend to be the Philadelphia police, you should be held to the same standard as the Philadelphia police. If they fooled me, I'm sure they're fooling just about everybody they stop."
Like Reed, many citizens don't know that Philly police aren't the only armed officers in the city empowered to make car stops. In fact, Temple and Drexel universities, the University of Pennsylvania, PHA and SEPTA all have armed cops who patrol their properties — and sometimes beyond — and can legally stop motorists and pedestrians.
But unlike the city police, whose officers have made more than 166,000 vehicle stops this year, those forces aren't required to track car stops, analyze stop trends to identify and remedy abuses or make that data available to the public.
That concerns reformers, who point to last month's shooting death of Samuel DuBose in Ohio as proof that university, public-transit and other such police forces whose officers stop vehicles or pedestrians deserve closer scrutiny.
In the Ohio case, University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing pulled DuBose over for a missing license plate and shot the unarmed motorist to death minutes later. After a body camera disproved Tensing's claim that DuBose's car dragged him, he was fired and charged with murder. While the incident was seen as another case of police brutality, some questioned why a cop tasked with ensuring campus safety would bother with a motorist missing a license plate.
"If it looks like a police officer, it acts like a police officer and it arrests like a police officer, it ought to be as accountable as any police officer," said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, whose litigation against the city forced city police to track and release stop data.
The ACLU sued Philadelphia in 2010, alleging that the city police routinely violated the 14th Amendment, which requires equal application of the law to all citizens, by conducting car and pedestrian stops on the basis of race. In 2011, a judge ordered the city to collect and make publicly available more detailed and usable stop-and-frisk data.
Sure enough, the data revealed problems. In a report published in February, the ACLU found that 37 percent of the department's 2014 pedestrian stops were made without reasonable suspicion, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (The report focused on pedestrian stops, even though the court order applies to all stops.)
While police forces other than the city's aren't bound by the decree, they should follow it, Roper said.
"Every police department should be collecting and analyzing [stop] data and be held publicly accountable for what they're finding," Roper added. "If the results don't look good, then they should fix it. That's just basic public accountability."
Still, ask any of these departments for that data, and prepare to be stonewalled.
"I'm afraid we do not make this information public," said Ron Ozio, a spokesman for the University of Pennsylvania, whose 116-member force is the state's largest private police department (and third largest of all college police forces nationally).
Drexel spokeswoman Niki Gianakaris was slightly more forthcoming: "The information you are requesting is not public. It's important to note, however, that the main focus of Drexel Police [a 36-officer force] is the safety of students on campus. Drexel police officers don't routinely make stops outside of campus boundaries unless they are assisting the Philadelphia Police."
Temple spokesman Ray Betzner said they do track stop data but couldn't provide it by press time.
SEPTA police made 1,725 vehicle stops in the past five years (including about 200 so far this year); three-quarters of those stopped were male, while the numbers of black and white motorists stopped were fairly even, according to SEPTA data.
As for PHA, spokeswoman Nichole Tillman described its police force as "in transition" and acknowledged that car stops weren't tracked before Chief Branville G. Bard Jr. took over in February.
With 57 developments and 4,000 "scattered site units" to patrol across the city, PHA officers do often venture off-property to get to other PHA sites. Still, Bard noted, PHA police should only be patrolling PHA properties.
Bard said tracking stops is a priority.
"We're in the process now of adopting all of [the city police department] policies," said Bard, adding that he plans to post PHA stop data and analyses to PHA's website by year's end. "We work for the public, and as such, we report directly to the public. They should know everything we do."
Bard, who wrote his college dissertation on eliminating racial profiling, added: "I'm concerned about issues of fundamental fairness."
To that end, he aims to outfit PHA officers with body cameras. He's waiting for city police to decide what body-camera technology they will use so PHA can piggyback on that purchase, he added.
Reed, a retired relocation worker for the city's Office of Emergency Shelter and Services, hopes the reforms come soon, lest another unlucky motorist experiences what he did.
He was driving a brand-new black Cadillac in North Philly just before midnight on Aug. 9, 2014, when an officer pulled him over at 7th and Cumberland streets.
He'd done nothing wrong that he knew of, but he kept quiet and complied when the cop demanded his license and registration.
"I didn't ask him why he pulled me over," said Reed, who had been visiting a cousin nearby. "That aggravates police officers. I went on and let him do his job first."
Minutes later, the officer returned, telling Reed his car wasn't properly registered - but that he'd let him go without a ticket. Other people might drive away, relieved. But the car was a rental Reed had gotten to drive to a family funeral the next day in Connecticut.
"Why in the devil would I leave my city with a car I know was unregistered, when every police department between here and Connecticut could stop me for it?" said Reed, who demanded a ticket so he could exchange the rental car for a properly registered one.
Turns out, the cop hadn't forgiven the registration problem out of kindness. Instead, as Reed later learned from a PHA police supervisor, there was no registration problem.
"He just wanted to run my name to see if he can luck up and catch me doing drugs or have a warrant out," said Reed, adding that the officer and his colleagues then yelled and threatened him when he refused to leave the scene without talking with a supervisor. "It's just a fishing expedition, but it is racial profiling."
Of his subsequent quest for reform, Reed said: "If you're siccing your police officers on citizens, you ought to already have your procedures in place. Otherwise, you're giving them a green light to do whatever they want."
Coypright 2015 the Philadelphia Daily News