Councilmember Ricky Burgess recently announced an ordinance intended to affect the way Pittsburgh police conduct stop-and-frisks on pedestrians suspected of having committed a crime. Stop-and-frisks, where police temporarily detain and conduct a limited search of a person based on an officer’s “reasonable suspicion” that the person committed a crime, is an irredeemable practice that functions as a tool to racially profile and harass our communities. We urge the council to expand the ordinance to include all stop-and-frisks and to ban the practice altogether.
The current ordinance requires only that police officers memorialize the reasons that they believe constitute “reasonable suspicion” that a person has committed a crime prior to temporarily detaining them. “Reasonable suspicion” is itself a term that can mean whatever a police officer wants it to mean. Merely existing in a so-called “high crime area” can be deemed suspicious by police officers and courts. While the ordinance would provide more data on the stop-and-frisks that Pittsburgh police officers conduct, it will do little to reduce its practice – a practice that is unequivocally performed in a racially-discriminatory manner, perpetrates significant harm on our communities, and does nothing to improve public safety.
Pittsburgh already publicizes some information related to stop-and-frisks. In 2020, Pittsburgh police reported 825 field contacts/warrantless searches and seizures of pedestrians. Two-thirds of the people stopped were Black. Police reported more than 3,000 warrantless searches and seizures overall, 71% of the people were Black. 327 of these warrantless searches and seizures were conducted on children, including children 10 years old or younger. 84% of these searches and seizures on children were Black. 901 people were frisked during traffic stops. 77% of them were Black. Stop-and-frisk as a practice is often defended by policing apologists as a vital way to keep people safe. While the number of warrantless searches and seizures has trended downward over the last ten years, reported “violent” offenses have decreased by almost half in that same time period. Stop-and-frisks are an integral part of the system of apartheid policing in this city and do nothing to further public safety. The city should end the practice altogether and devote resources to housing, education, food security, and other material needs that actually keep people safe and reduce harm in our communities.