A local woman’s suggestion that two shovelers she hired to work on her sidewalk Tuesday were racially profiled by Lower Merion police has sparked an investigation.
Deborah Saldana of Penn Wynne, Pa., first shared her story Tuesday night in the Facebook group Lower Merion Community Network.
“We hired two kids to shovel our sidewalk,” Saldana wrote. “These were 'African American' kids (one is actually Haitian), that have come to our house and shoveled before.”
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
As they were shoveling, Saldana said two police officers stopped them behind her home and ran background checks on them while they sat outside in the cold.
“It just seemed wrong to have them sitting there,” she said. “They didn’t have weapons. They just had shovels sitting to the side.”
Saldana said her father went to check to see what was going on and was told by the officers they were conducting an investigation. The shovelers then went back to work after 20 minutes, according to Saldana.
“The cops came to the door to tell my father that from now on, 'anyone' shoveling in Lower Merion, except if it’s your own property, needs a permit from the township, a $50 permit that has to be valid if they check,” Saldana wrote. “We paid the kids and they were okay, a little shaken up. I wonder if the same would have happened it if was white kids shoveling?”
Saldana also told NBC10 she didn’t buy the officers’ explanation.
“I think it was profiling,” she said. “I hate to say it. I know we live in a really heated climate right now. I would like to think it was the permit. I think it was just a superficial excuse.”
Lower Merion police told NBC10 they are investigating the incident and have made numerous attempts to speak to Saldana but have not yet heard back from her. They also said based on their investigation so far, they made two stops in Penn Wynne at 11 a.m. and 2:40 p.m. for canvassing and soliciting. None of the people stopped were teenagers, according to Lower Merion Police Superintendent Michael McGrath.
“There were a total of five people in two incidents,” said McGrath. “Two gentlemen were in their 40s, two were in their 30s, and one of the 30-year-olds was accompanied by an 18-year-old. We’re not aware of any kids being stopped.”
No permit is required for kids to shovel in the Township, according to McGrath.
“We do want to make it very clear that kids can go out and make after-school money or day-off-from-school money,” he said.
McGrath told NBC10 the two officers involved in the stops are done with their shifts but will be interviewed when they return to work.
McGrath insisted that the reported stops had nothing to do with race and that both encounters were friendly.
“The officers were stopping them because they were soliciting for business in the neighborhood,” McGrath said. “We made stops for that 141 times last year in documented incidents because the township code requires anybody making any business-type solicitation to have a permit and give identification. This is something the community has requested for many years and it’s been on the books for decades... As far as them not being placed in police cars, that would be confining somebody when it wasn’t warranted in this case. When it came back that there may be an issue of a warrant, at that point those people were asked to sit on the curb until we resolved the issue. They were both cleared up. Nobody was arrested. Nobody was handcuffed.”
Saldana told NBC10 she doesn't know for sure whether the shovelers she hired are teenagers, even though she believes they are. Despite this, she also doesn't believe their age is the real issue.
"I've never seen any white kids stopped for their permit regardless of age," she said. "I still have to wonder. I don't jump to conclusions. I don't pass judgments very quickly. But it was just my gut instinct, because you never see anybody else stopped. So that's kind of the logical deduction."