Stop & Frisk

Image | Steve Woods

Last month, a federal judge issued an order to begin a three-month pilot program on Aug. 1 in the Philadelphia Police’s 14th District in Northwest Philadelphia. The program will require police officers to ask people engaged in minor offenses to stop and leave the area. Officers can forcibly detain and question the person if they refuse. 

The court’s order also includes a program that monitors racial disparities in pedestrian stops and frisks by officers and the development of an accountability and discipline system of those who engage in racially biased stops and frisks. 

This is the latest salvo in the war to remove the proactive tool of “Stop & Frisk” in pedestrian stops that police officers need to reduce gun violence and take the truly bad guys and their guns off the street. Stop & Frisk has led to many an illegal gun being discovered and confiscated. Critics of the policy state the Stop & Frisk actions are racially motivated, and more people of color are stopped than white people.

Several Philly cops have told me they are not at all happy with this.  

I recall interviewing former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly a few years ago. Kelly was credited with a historic drop in crime in New York. I asked Kelly what he thought of Stop & Frisk. He said he preferred to call the policy “Street Inquiries” or “Stop, Question & Sometimes Frisk.”

“It is common sense. It says that if people, particularly young people, have a tendency to carry a gun and have the potential for being stopped and having that gun found, they are less likely to carry it, therefore you will have less spontaneous shootings,” Kelly told me. “When stops are done at a reasonable level, I think it will reduce shootings.

“We’ve seen it here in New York and we’ve seen it in other cities. There was an article in the New York Times saying there is an increase in shootings in 30 cities in America. That’s not a coincidence. That’s a result of backing off from these types of tactics and strategies.” 

Kelly said that Stop & Frisk is not a be-all or end-all, but the total tactics they used in the Bloomberg administration’s 12 years resulted in almost 9,500 fewer murders than in the 12 preceding 12 years. 

“That is a phenomenal number. And if history is any guide, those lives saved are men of color,” Kelly said.   

I interviewed legendary Philadelphia homicide detective and retired Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael J. Chitwood here this past April. He stated that police should have the ability to stop and frisk. He denied that Stop & Frisk policies are race related.

“A criminal will always have a gun. They ain’t giving up guns,” Chitwood said. “That’s why they are criminals.” 

Chitwood advocates a policy of “hot-spot” policing in which the police target a high-crime neighborhood.     

“You have to identify the bad guys. They are straight up thugs. You have to have a multi-disciplinary avenue to focus on those individuals identified as the ‘baddies’ in a neighborhood. You have to flood an area with police officers who make it known that this type of violence is not acceptable.” 

Chitwood said that hot-spot and Stop & Frisk policies will reduce gun violence.

Yet even with Stop & Frisk policies in place, we need a district attorney who will prosecute gun crimes. As veteran investigative reporter Ralph Cipriano noted at his popular blog,, the facts show repeatedly that Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner doesn’t hold anyone accountable for gun crimes. 

“When people get arrested for carrying guns in Philadelphia, crime stats show, Krasner’s office routinely gives out sentences that are well below state sentencing guidelines for gun crimes,” Cipriano wrote. “Instead of prosecuting gun crimes to the fullest extent, to protect the public, Krasner, working the other side of the fence, gives every criminal a break who was caught with an illegal gun. 

“According to a tweet last week from Capt. Matthew Gillespie, commanding office of the 18th Police District, out of a total of 303 illegal firearm arrests in his district during 2019 and 2020, under Larry Krasner’s D.A.’s office, only two of those defendants – .06 percent – received state sentences, which typically run more than two years in jail. Instead, the rest of those defendants who were found guilty or pleaded guilty received more lenient county sentences, which typically run between 11 1/2 months and 23 months.” 

Stop & Frisk policies help take the illegal guns carried by criminals off the street, which prevents further gun violence. This, in my view, is true gun control, rather than restricting the rights of legitimate legal gun owners.

Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here each week. You can contact him via

  • Paul Davis

    Having worked as a crime reporter and columnist in Philadelphia for many years, Paul Davis has covered organized crime, cybercrime, street crime, white collar crime, crime prevention, espionage and terrorism. He can be reached at

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