Exclusive: Calls To Police Skyrocketed After Hiring of Philly Starbucks Manager Who Was on Duty During #Starbuckswhileblack Arrests

Yves here. This story is a great example of a news organization using FOIA to do original reporting. And the Philadelphia police department gets credit for turning the sought-after records promptly. It’s all too common for government bodies to fight or slow-walk document requests.

The results also support our hypothesis about the Starbucks incident, in which a now-fired manager called the cops on two men whose crime appeared to be waiting at a Starbucks while black, and using the restroom. The evidence below indicates this manager was a disaster waiting to happen and had been calling the police at a vastly higher frequency than her predecessor.

We had discussed briefly that one Malcolm Gladwell’s books included a case study of biased policing in the Los Angeles Police Department, which has a a terrible record in that regard. He found was that a very few cops were responsible for virtually all the incidents. Gladwell argued that that meant the conventional approach, of more training for all the police, was all wet. Those rogue policemen needed to be taken off the street.

Starbuck’s rush to hold a training program may be good optics, but it isn’t likely to be the best approach. The coffee chain should require managers to write an incident report any time they call the police. That would enable them to see if any managers were making a lot of requests and they could then look as to whether the calls were warranted or not.

News reports have pointed out that part of the problem is that Starbucks never gave its store managers any policy on what to do about people who stay in a Starbucks without buying anything. I’m skeptical that promulgating rules on a national basis is the right answer. As I mentioned when I had nearly a week of having to work in Starbucks thanks to Verizon-induced connectivity woes, there was often one or two homeless people in an area that was a bit removed from the cash registers. There were also plenty of customers back there, most working solo like me, but also a few groups of two or three people chatting. No one was bothered by the homeless people sitting nearby. In fact, I thought it was a good thing that some of the money I spent at Starbucks was helping the homeless. However, it isn’t hard to think that in an affluent suburb, the locals would go nuts if a homeless person were to hang out in a Starbucks, and management would almost be forced to run them off because customers were certain to make a stink.

By Patrick Duff, a researcher and civil rights activist who currently lives in NJ. His activism has focused on ending mass incarceration, preserving African American history and making government more transparent. Edited by Naked Capitalism reader aliteralmind, aka Jeff Epstein. Jeff is an independent and progressive journalist with Citizens’ Media TV. Originally published at Citizens’ Media TV

Derived (cropped) from Pexels (license) (inspired by the photo at the top of this article

On April 12th, a video went viral of two black men being arrested at a Center City Philadelphia Starbucks. The incident has caused an international debate (England, Canada, China) as to just how such a thing could happen. After initially defending the arrests, the Philadelphia Police apologized to the men. Starbucks is even closing thousands of stores to provide racial sensitivity training in response to this one event.

Viral arrest video Link to video

The real problem for Starbucks though, along with the Philadelphia Police, is that this was far from just one event; it was a pattern that snowballed into two black men finally saying no when confronted with blatant discrimination.

According to public 911 records obtained from the Philadelphia Police, in the year of 2016 only 11 calls were made to 911 from 1801 Spruce Street, 2 of them for a 3306, which stands for “disturbing a crowd. Something changed though in 2017, which is just about the time it is reported that the new manager, Holly Hylton, started at that location.

Screenshot of the 911 call data retrieved from the Philadelphia Police. The full request and response are in an appendix at the bottom of this article. Here is a link to all spreadsheet data imported into Google Sheets, and a link to the original Microsoft Excel spreadsheet received from the police.

In 2017 at least 28 calls were made for the same 3306 code, with 12 other calls being made for similar minor offenses. Two of these calls were determined to be “unfounded by the police (that is, unworthy of pursuing), according to the 911 reports. In the first three and a half months of 2018, another 15 calls were made from that same Starbucks, with at least 3 being made for the same 3306 call, and one code being changed for the 2 men arrested.

In the entire year of 2018 up till April 18th, four 3306 calls were made to 911, with two of those calls being made on, 4-12-2018, the day the two men were arrested – once immediately before they were arrested, and another call 18 minutes later.

A total of 58 calls to 911 were made to this property in just 15 and a half months, with a total of 3 arrests. This includes the 2 men who were arrested for “waiting while black” that were never charged. This means that there may be dozens of more people who possibly were victims of the same type of police-justified discrimination at just this one Starbucks location.

The Rittenhouse Square section where this Starbucks is located has only a 3% African American population, yet African Americans accounted for 67% of all police stops in the same section in just the first half of 2017, according to the ACLU. In fact, two thirds of all arrests in entire city of Philadelphia were of African Americans, despite being less than half its population.

I reached out to the Philly PD for comment, but as of 1:30 pm they have not responded. I also reached out to Starbucks for a comment, to which they responded:

While we understand your concern, as we have shared previously, we consider your claim having been investigated and now a closed matter.

APPENDIX: Full records request

From: Patrick Duff <XXX>
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 3:35 PM
To: Police RightToKnow
Subject: Request

I am making this request under the PA right to know law.

Please provide me with all 911 calls made from the Starbucks at 1801 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 between 1-1-2016 and 4-18-2018.

Patrick Duff


From: Police RightToKnow <Police.RightToKnow@phila.gov>
Date: Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 1:28 PM
Subject: Your Request for Information
To: Patrick Duff <XXX>
Cc: Police RightToKnow <Police.RightToKnow@phila.gov>

Mr. Duff :

Attached to this correspondence is the Philadelphia Police Department’s final determination to your request for information.

Best :

Philadelphia Police Department
Open Records/Right-to-Know Section

750 Race Street, Rm. 203
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Full formal response


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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Good investigating. It did strike me that there was something going on in the background to this. I’m not familiar with how it works in the US, but certainly on this side of the pond the police would be very reluctant to get involved with an incident inside a private premises such as a cafe unless there was a threat of physical violence. Its a difficult thing for staff I know – I was just talking to the owner of my favourite cafe in my area (one with lots of homeless and social problems) and she was saying how much she dreads the school holidays as it can be very difficult to deal with teenagers up to mischief – its just not considered a police issue so she has to deal with them herself.

    On the subject of Malcolm Gladwells article – I’m no fan of his, but he does have a point on this. There seems a reflex action now to any ‘problem’ to see it as a collective issue which can only be dealt with by some sort of training or ‘awareness’ (Bill Burr is particularly funny when he satirises this), which overlooks the fact that a huge proportion of crime is caused by a relatively small number of constant repeat offenders, and these are what we should be focusing on. I can’t find the link right now, but one study I came across a while back on sexual assaults on college campuses indicated that the overwhelming majority of cases could be traced to a relatively tiny number of men – repeat sexual predators, who could often clock up hundreds of victims each. This is consistent with the experience of institutional abuse all over the world. Public agonising over consent issues and so on is largely a red herring when it comes to stopping the problem.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I agree Gladwell is generally overrated, but he did some pieces related to the policy implications of power law distributions that were really good. Another one was the article Million Dollar Murray…..which one could once read online but the New Yorker has paywalled.

  2. The Rev Kev

    In the same way that all problems look like nails to a man with a hammer, maybe something like this is at work here with not only that Starbucks manager but people across the board. Two black guys hanging around at a Starbucks? Call in the police to arrest them. Unruly kids in a school classroom? Call in the police to arrest them. Having a public meeting and you want to shut down someone calling you out on your BS? Call in the police to arrest them. Some parent is letting their child play alone in their own backyard? Call in the police to arrest them. I see more and more situations where police are being used as a hammer where they really have no need to be there.

    That Starbucks situation was ridiculous in the amount of police used as well. Was there anybody left at the police station? In the “old days” the police would send an experienced cop and a younger rookie to learn the ropes and would get the situation quickly sussed out. Arrests were made only when you had to as the paperwork involved was never welcomed. Then again, that was in the days before computers and everything had to be typed up so no cut-and-paste. I am looking at something seriously wrong with police doctrine here and how they are so quick to react to reports and how quick they are willing to escalate the situation. I really think that somebody should sit down and work out exactly how much that those temporary arrests cost the taxpayer in police time and resources which might perhaps bring a bit of fiscal discipline to what is going on.

    1. tongorad

      Unruly kids in a school classroom? Call in the police to arrest them.

      I might be biased (I am a public school teacher), but this statement falls well into the category of “making stuff up.”

      I teach in a suburban title 1 high school. Yes, we do have police on campus. That’s because school (like the rest of society) is a dangerous place. We have gangs. We have daily fights. We have students who bring weapons to school. We have students with serious mental illness. We have students who want to harm staff, their peers and themselves. We have students using and selling drugs. We have sexual assaults.

      Everything and anything that happens in your community happens at school. And in all of the above, a teacher cannot simply, as you insinuate, pick up a phone and order the police to arrest a student.
      Just as you cannot call the police and order them to arrest your next door neighbor.

      I get it, it’s fashionable to bash public schools and teachers these days. We are often depicted as authoritarian monsters. Perhaps deservedly in some instances.
      However, I have worked in both the private sector (corporate america) and the public schools, and in my experience, public school teachers have WAY more checks and balances than the private sector actors. In my district, any teacher who thinks the police are on hand to solve classroom discipline issues will face swift and harsh consequences.

      1. The Rev Kev

        I wish that I was making this stuff up. I am giving four examples below but I have seen more over the past coupla years-


        Those examples were from a two minute Google search. This is not about bashing public schools and teachers as I don’t even live in the same continent so have no dog in this fight (I have no idea what a suburban title 1 high school even is). My point was that so many problems seem to call up a police response and that is when the real fun and games start.
        Teachers are just like any other people and are just trying to do their job and every now and then you have those that are like that Starbucks manager and get on the horn to the police too quickly through gutlessness.

        1. tongorad

          Did you bother to read any of these?
          Student choking other students and attempting to choke a teacher.
          Student attacking teacher aide and making threats to kill.
          Student suspended for making unwanted physical contact (yes, this can and does happen even at very young ages).
          The last story about the resource officer seems like a legit incident, but as with all, I am dubious about the thoroughness of main stream US media sources, which by in large support the smearing of teachers and public education.

          As for gutless, are you aware that teachers/schools have legal obligations and liabilities regarding student behavior (violence, sex, threatening, etc)?
          Your view of the this complicated reality, by your own admission, from another continent and through the lens of CNN & Fox news, seems hasty and fraudulent.

          1. witters

            Yeah Kev,you got to understand, the US is just more violent. They are different people and need their own harsh methods. After all, it works… (not on reducing violence, but on minimizing the chances of organized revolt against the ever inequalitizing status quo).

          2. The Rev Kev

            Read them again. Maybe I was spoiled in the public school that I went to but for the sort of stuff talked about in those articles, it was all dealt within the school. Calling in the police I never saw done. That would have been seen in only something outstandingly criminal and only for teenagers. Not this sort of school-yard dust ups in the articles that I am reading.
            In what way is it a good idea to have a child in single-digit years being arrested with hand-cuffs, walked to the back of a cruiser and then ending up with perhaps a criminal record. That’s crazy that. That can screw up the rest of their lives. You think that the kids will trust teachers after seeing that?
            I happened to finally catch up with that Michael Moore’s “Where to Invade Next” doco the other night and I saw how schools were done elsewhere. Perhaps you have seen far too much in your system but take a look at the 10-minute clip below to show you how else schools can be done-


            While I am at it, check out how other countries do such stuff as school lunches too-


  3. aliteralmind

    Thank you for publishing our article, Yves.

    Here is an updated bio (it’s a guest post edited by me):

    “Author Patrick Duff is a researcher and civil rights activist who currently lives in NJ.  His activism has focused on ending mass incarceration, preserving African American history and making government more transparent. Edited by Naked Capitalism reader aliteralmind, aka Jeff Epstein. Jeff is an independent and progressive journalist with Citizens’ Media TV [http://citizensmedia.tv]. Originally published on Citizens’ Media TV [https://citizensmedia.tv/2018/04/26/starbuckswhileblack/].”

    Patrick is a public records bloodhound. I believe this is his first published article. Likely more to come from him.

      1. aliteralmind

        UPDATE 4/27/2018: The 3306 police code should be corrected to mean “dispersing a crowd.” (Fixed in the original.)

  4. David May

    That was shocking. I cannot imagine the humiliation of being shackled and hauled away by the police for the crime of being black. I hope those guys sue the sh*t out of Starbucks and the PPD. Such humiliations must have an awful effect on a person’s psyche.

  5. cocomaan

    The fact that the Inquirer didn’t cover this as in-depth as you did shows how bankrupt our journalism is.

    Great work!

  6. Michael O

    Great work Patrick!

    Every business should track police reports tied to their operations and investigate every statistical outlier. I’m surprised that Starbuck’s isn’t already doing this.

  7. DJG

    Excellent statistical point up top: It’s the Pareto principle that a few causes may produce most of the effects Intuitively, we feel it all the time–why do I have to go through this procedure / search / form when what the organization wants is to monitor a few bad apples? Better to monitor the few bad apples.

    The problem for Starbucks is that HR departments have never discovered the Pareto principle: Why discipline the few bad managers when you can make everyone go through a day of training and sensitivity workshops, with cartons of Munchkins as a palliative?

  8. Lee

    The staffs and customers at the Starbucks I’ve been to in the SF east bay are a veritable rainbow of race, gender and cultural diversity. Instead of a day of sensitivity training, the workers at these shops should be rewarded with bonuses and a paid day off. If they were to become any more accepting of human variety they’d be sporting halos and wings.

  9. sharonsj

    I disagree with “I’m skeptical that promulgating rules on a national basis is the right answer.” Aside from the manager’s bias. if a store has rules, they need to be posted. I read that that particular store (along with some others) wouldn’t let anyone use the restrooms unless a customer bought something. On the receipt was a code that would then allow you to get inside the bathroom. The two black guys may not have known this–and the manager may not have explained it–so they were understandably surprised when they saw a white man emerging from a bathroom. Also, while Starbucks presumably encourages people to hang around for a long time without buying anything, apparently not every store does. Big signs with big lettering would make a difference.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Do you have a reading comprehension problem?

      I said national basis and explained why a one-size-fits all policy does not make sense. You completely ignored and backed the premise that people who haven’t or more to the point, haven’t yet bought things at Starbucks should be allowed to use Starbucks facilities.

      Other articles have said Starbucks as a matter of policy likes to encourage people to meet there, and the lack of a policy on bathroom access is a reflection of a not articulated need to let managers decide if that’s being abused in their store or not. Sometimes not everyone in a group buys something. These two guys were waiting for a third person to show up. They might not have ordered or they might have been waiting for him to show up before he ordered. I don’t know how many times I’ve ben the first person to get to a restaurant, not ordered a drink before the other person got there because I think that’s rude (many people don’t but to each his own) and used the loo. What the men did is hardly out of line and I can see why Starbucks would not want to promulgate a rule like yours. I’d tell people to go to another coffee shop if Starbucks started behaving like a police guard over restroom use.

      Similarly, I’m a regular at my local Starbucks. Staff knows me by name. One night, when I was having my connectivity disaster, the lines were long, I was already way behind, and I grabbed a table and started working and didn’t buy anything. By your logic, even regulars who haven’t bought that day should be denied bathroom use.

      And I further indicated that in NYC, homeless people who are quiet are allowed to hang out. I support that policy and no patron I’ve seen every had a problem with that. It is a total disgrace that NYC has effectively no public bathrooms. If my overpriced and burned Starbucks coffee winds up compensating for that by allowing homeless people a tad more dignity than they otherwise have, including access to a clean toilet and sink, I’m all for that.

      1. OldBear

        That “haven’t yet” thing is important. I have been to a few Starbucks years ago, and I have pretty much stopped going to fast food places for a couple years now, but I used to go to them for my work lunch break. There would be signs saying “restrooms for customers only.” Often, I really needed to use the restroom, and how would it make sense to get my food and then leave it and go? Or, I would want to wash my hands before eating, same thing. Being a kind of fearful OCD type about these things, I used to wonder if someone would yell at me to stop! They never did, but I’m an old, more-or-less respectably dressed white male. Might explain why I could do it.

  10. JerryB

    Initially I viewed this incident through the “racism” frame. But after reading this post and Yves intro, additional frames of “being somewhere without buying anything” and “homeless in Starbucks” make this incident even more absurd. I live in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago and frequently go into Chicago so I have been in a Starbucks in both a major city and the suburbs. In many instances I see some homeless people hanging out there. I also see people from all walks of life who come to a Starbucks to work so they can be around people and not be alone at home. Many of the people who come to Starbucks to work may buy a small house coffee and be in Starbucks for an hour or more. I have seen this same scenario playing out a local McDonalds. At local McDonalds I see more and more older people(60+) who come to McDonalds just to not be alone. Again the whole “you have to buy something” meme is absurd.

    Related to this is the idea of public and private space. Local public libraries are having more homeless people who hang out there during the day. Not just homeless people but elderly/retired people and people who are alone and want to be in a social atmosphere. Some of the local libraries in the Chicago area have hired social workers to help their patrons who are either homeless, elderly, or just people who need services and a helping hand. In the age of state and local budget cuts many libraries are old and lacking in facilities(adequate meeting rooms, digital media, etc.) for the 21st Century. At my local library I see many students and their tutors working at tables trying to be quiet when they would be better off in a meeting room but there are not enough meeting rooms!!! I wonder how many people realize how many other people do not have internet, a computer, or know how to navigate the internet. I think many unemployment offices require you to file online. How can you if you have no internet or a computer and your local library is suffering through budget cuts?? When the libraries try to expand or rebuild the “anti tax” people vote them down. In todays gig, start up, and flexible economy many people need spaces to work and hold meetings.

    We need public spaces where people can go to be in a social atmosphere and get help from their fellow man/woman without dealing with the privatization of everything and “having to buy something”. I just started reading David Graeber’s recent book, the Utopia of Rules, and this seems to fit that. The recent incident where a group of African American women golfers had the police called for “pace of play violations” and now the Starbucks “you have to buy something” smacks of totalitarianism and a utopia of rules. For the moment putting aside that both incidents involved African Americans, I am an older white male and in my career and outside of work life I also have dealt with absurd issues like of a conformity to rules and/or procedures, i,e. a sort Orwell’s 1984ism. I am for progressive policies such as medicare for all, affordable college tuition, etc. but recent incidents like these make me think we have to start with the basic idea of being human to each other and I am not optimistic. Is there a place on this planet where people are neighborly, kind, and helpful to each other?

    1. Jerry

      Just to correct my own editing error and for those not aware, the African American women golfers themselves did not call the police for “pace of play violations”. The owners of the Grandview Golf Course in York County Pennsylvania golf club called the police on the women golfers for pace of pay violations. In the online video one of the club owners said he was timing the golfing group. However in the cell phone video one of the women points out the the golf group behind them was still taking a beer break so there was no real pace of play issues. In other words there was no pace of play issues just a Orwellian, totalitarian, violation of rules. Another theater of the absurd.

  11. aliteralmind

    Can’t believe I never noticed this before, but how do you “subscribe to post comments”? Clicking on that big button between the article and comments just goes to a page with a whole bunch of XML source code.

  12. blennylips

    If you are using the Goog’s Chrome, you need to add the extension: “RSS Subscription Extension (by Google)“.

  13. OldBear

    Not much into Gladwell, but that point about the mass training is interesting. I have observed something like that in about 40 + years of working life, in both private and public employment, including in academia. There will be some person doing something that is a problem, but their manager or supervisor doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of working with them individually and possibly the person making a stink or getting litigious. So they write a memo to everybody, saying something like, “it has come to my attention that xyz has occurred; please be reminded that this is against company policy.” Or maybe waste an hour of everybody’s time having a meeting about it. So everybody is like, “Whuh? Did I do this, I can’t remember, am I in trouble?” Or alternatively, people already know who the person is, and they just lose respect for what a wuss the supervisor is.

  14. anon

    The Daily Mail article linked to says “Cash started working for Starbucks as a shift supervisor in December 2016 and Hylton was hired several months later last spring”.

    However Holly Hylton’s linked in bio says she was manager there since Sept. 2014.

    Need to find out which is correct.


    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Maybe she was “hired” from another Starbucks location, or promoted into the role from another location and is misleadingly using her last title for her entire history with Starbucks.

      As you might know from our recent case study of CalPERS’ CFO Charles Asubonten, information on a LinkedIn profile, including dates of employment, isn’t necessarily accurate.

  15. anon

    Hylton’s start date as manager is critical to the analysis, but assume the Daily Mail is correct that it was spring 2017. It doesn’t look like a step function in calls in the spring of 2017, but gradual increase from the end of 2016 (there were four 3306 calls in Jan 2017). Would be interesting to go back further (why cut off at 2016?) Also, calls occur throughout the store hours from before 8AM until after 9PM, so no single employee could account for them, possibly Hylton instructed everyone to rigorously enforce store policy even when she wasn’t present?

  16. Tyronius

    While the Pareto Principle aspect of this incident is undeniable, I think the national publicity the incident has drawn will encourage more awareness of this issue across the entire country, whether or not the place in question happens to be a Starbucks.

    I think that, at least, is a good thing.

Comments are closed.