By Trang Do

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For three months, Philadelphia Police officers in the 14th district will be taking a different approach to minor offenses such as open containers, smoking marijuana in public and disorderly conduct. Under a pilot program starting Aug. 1, instead of stop and frisk, officers will ask people to stop the behavior and leave the area.

At an ACLU news conference outside of Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books in Germantown announcing the program, activist Valerie Todd said it’s a step in the right direction.

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“To come home and be on parole, they say, no police contact, police contact can take you straight back to prison, they ask questions later,” she said. “You can find yourself incarcerated over some low-level crime that you didn’t even do.”

The ACLU and civil rights attorneys sued Philadelphia about 10 years ago in response to stop and frisk practices that both a judge and city data expert found to show racial bias. For the first quarter of the year, statistics from the ACLU show that 70% of pedestrians stopped by Philadelphia police were Black.

The program is being tested in Northwest Philadelphia, which includes Councilmember Cindy Bass’ district.

“We need our police department. We need them to protect us,” Bass said. “We want to have good relationships. We want to have dignified and respectful relationships with the police department and I think that this is going to be the start to getting us on that path.”

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A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department wrote:

“The Philadelphia Police Department has been under a Settlement Agreement regarding car and pedestrian stops since 2011. As part of this agreement, the City’s statistical expert has reviewed the PPD’s stops each year to identify any racial disparity. In 2020, our expert found that racial disparity does exist in certain types of stops.

After further analysis, the City’s statistical expert believes that the root cause of the racial disparity identified may, in part, result from the manner in which the PPD enforces certain quality of life-type offenses. As such, the Philadelphia Police Department is committed to exploring or piloting different programs that can improve the service we provide to the community and also reduce racial disparity, bias or even the appearance thereof.

The purpose of the Modified Quality of Life Enforcement Pilot Program is NOT to abandon quality of life enforcement, but rather to provide offenders an opportunity to cease and desist such activities, prior to the issuance of any citations. This is a balanced approach that still allows the PPD to address community complaints while striving to reduce or eliminate the racial disparity that has been associated with this type of enforcement.”

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ACLU Pennsylvania Deputy Legal Director Mary Catherine Roper said after three months, all parties will appear before the judge to see how the program worked. If it is successful, it could be expanded to the rest of the city.