The Rev. Reggie Brooks, pastor of a storefront church in the Philadelphia suburb of Pottstown, once counted himself as a strong supporter of a police crackdown on the pushers and hoodlums who tormented his neighborhood, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. That ended when his 14-year-old nephew and a friend were hauled out of a neighborhood barbershop last year as suspected drug dealers. After ordering the teenagers to put their hands in the air and spread their legs, the police found no drugs. They left without an apology. Says Brooks, who is African American: “I don’t think the cops respect the community.”
As Philadelphia debates a tougher style of neighborhood policing, public officials and community leaders need look no farther than some of the city’s older suburbs to see what happens when police make thousands of nuisance arrests to fight drugs and violence. Blue-collar towns where jobs have fled and crime has risen have consistently recorded some of the highest arrest rates in the U.S., says the Inquirer in the first of three articles. Police chiefs across the suburbs say nuisance laws are an indispensable tool in their quest to rid the streets of serious criminals; they say many of those arrested have long records for drug dealing or violence. They insist they do not target offenders by race. The aggressive tactics, used in largely minority neighborhoods, mean that African Americans are arrested for nuisance offenses far more frequently than whites – at rates dramatically out of proportion to their numbers in the population.