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PHILADELPHIA -- Demonstrating a frisk, Sgt. D.F. Pace moved his hand along Martin Klepac's belt before his fingers slipped into Klepac's right pants pocket.
"Whoa!" shouted several Philadelphia police officers observing the demonstration, recognizing that the instructor had crossed a serious legal boundary when his fingers entered the subject's pocket: A pat-down had just become an illegal search.
"Still have your wallet?" somebody in the audience shouted as Klepac, a sergeant in the Sixth District, took his seat during the training session Thursday at the Philadelphia Police Academy.
All joking aside, the instruction was serious business, and much is riding on it politically: The Police Department began preparing officers last week to respond to Mayor Nutter's promise to step up stop-and-frisk tactics to help rid the streets of illegal weapons.
Department officials insist there is really nothing new to stop-and-frisk - the courts have long-established rules that set limits on pat-downs to protect the public from unreasonable searches.
But Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey wants officers to increase the number of legal searches they conduct as part of a strategy the department calls "aggressive but intelligent policing."
"We're not asking you to do anything illegal or unconstitutional in any way," Lt. Francis T. Healy, a department lawyer, says in a training video being shown to patrol officers. "We just want you to do what you're doing today, but step it up a bit."
Though officers already are trained in the finer legal points of conducting a frisk - a protective pat-down can be conducted only to detect weapons, not to search for drugs - police say they want to reinforce the training to reduce confusion that has arisen over Nutter's promise to respond aggressively to the city's high rate of violent crime.
"Stop-and-frisk does not, under any circumstances, mean stopping people for no reason, throwing them up against the wall, patting them down, frisking them," said Healy, a special adviser to Ramsey. "That is not what we're talking about."
More than 600 field supervisors - mostly sergeants, but some corporals and lieutenants - began attending the two-hour training sessions at the academy on Thursday; the classes will continue through this week. The supervisors will be responsible for training their field officers in the department's 23 districts. Officers expect to see an immediate increase in stops.
Criminologists say that stop-and-frisk tactics, used most famously by the New York City police, demonstrably reduce the number of illegal weapons on the street and reduce violent crime. But the more intrusive police action inevitably builds community tensions and, if done insensitively or incorrectly, can result in expensive civil rights lawsuits against police.
In New York, the practice has raised some eyebrows and allegations of racial bias. Of 500,000 pedestrian and vehicle stops conducted in 2006, 89 percent involved nonwhites, though white suspects were 70 percent likelier to have a weapon on them, according to the department's analysis.
Police acknowledge that apprehension about stop-and-frisk is widespread, particularly among people of color. Former Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson warned last year that Nutter would have "a problem" with discontent - or worse, civil unrest - if heavy-handed police tactics undermine public goodwill.
The mantra now in the department is to emphasize that the searches must be conducted according to the law, and officers are under orders to thoroughly document the grounds that lead to a stop so that any evidence confiscated is admissible in court. The documentation also protects the police if their conduct comes under legal challenge.
"If officers do their jobs right, we will never have to worry about a civil suit," said Lt. John Bradley of the department's advanced training unit, which is conducting the instruction.
"We want to avoid the problems New York had," he said. "We want to have a partnership with the community, and don't want them to be upset with us being there."
According to the 40-year-old court ruling in Terry v. Ohio, police can conduct a frisk if they have "reasonable suspicion" that a person is up to something criminal. A frisk, or pat-down, is not as thorough as a full-fledged search, which can be done only if the officer establishes probable cause that a person has violated the law.
The training involves more than instructing officers to be careful, legal and polite.
The supervisors also encourage officers to be clever and resourceful about using even minor infractions - something as routine as spitting, littering, loitering, or holding an open container of alcohol - as a rationale to stop a suspect person and conduct a legal frisk.
"We want you to make as many lawful stops as you can," Healy says in the video for the field troops. "The more people we come in to contact with lawfully, the more chances you're going to come across bad guys and guns."
At the same time, the lawyer reminded officers that many people they stop will be "decent folks" who have committed minor infractions, and that the officers still can use their best judgment whether to issue a citation or let someone go with a warning.
"Don't go out there and hammer everyone you come in contact with," he said. "That's not what we want to do . . . . Use discretion."
Legal Police Frisks
The courts have limited the circumstances under which officers can stop and frisk individuals.
The police must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed.
"Reasonable suspicion" must be based on "specific and articulable facts," not just a hunch. The factors may include a person's known criminal record, presence in a high-crime area, evasive conduct, furtive gestures, flight, and information from a police bulletin.
The scope of a frisk is strictly limited so that the officer seeks only items that could be used to harm him or her.
The sole justification is the protection of the police officer and others nearby.
Police can "frisk" a vehicle, but are limited to the "grabbable" areas where a weapon may be placed or hidden, including closed, but not locked, containers.
SOURCE: Philadelphia Police Department
Contact staff writer Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947 or email@example.com.