Lower Merion police are investigating a resident's concerns after police stopped and questioned two snow shovelers in Wynnewood, apparently because they lacked permits.
Deborah Saldana, whose father hired the two to clear his property on Overbrook Avenue after they knocked on his door, thought the two were teenagers and was concerned that police in the predominantly white township were targeting them because they are black.
Police stopped a pair shoveling near Saldana's property at 2:42 p.m. Tuesday, said Tom Walsh, a township spokesman. That was about the time Saldana said she saw officers questioning her shovelers.
The men the police spoke with are ages 34 and 18, Walsh said, and may have violated an ordinance that regulates people who solicit business by knocking on doors.
The ordinance doesn't prevent youths from going door to door offering shovel service, Walsh said. But it takes a dim view of adults doing the same.
"No kids need a permit to shovel snow in Lower Merion Township," Walsh said. "If there are adults out there going door to door and soliciting, that's a different story. If it's a neighbor or whatever, that's fine. You don't need a permit to shovel snow."
Police were working to determine whether the two adults stopped near Saldana's home were the two shovelers she had hired and judged to be teenagers, Walsh said.
"They were very small, skinny build," Saldana said. "That's why I thought they were teens, because they were my height or shorter."
Police questioned another group of three shovelers a few hours earlier Tuesday, Walsh said. They ranged in age from their 30s to 40s, he said. No one was arrested or handcuffed, and no citations were issued for violating the township's soliciting ordinance, he said.
Saldana said she did not know her shovelers' names or where they lived, but speculated they may have walked to her neighborhood.
Lower Merion's median income is $115,226, and the township of 58,000 is 85 percent white. Saldana, who grew up in the township, is Hispanic; her family hails from Peru. Her work as a translator takes her into constant contact with minority communities, and she thought she should make the incident public after her 10-year-old son's reaction to seeing the shovelers sitting in the snow.
"My son asked me, 'Are they in trouble? Did they do something wrong?' And I didn't know how to answer him," said Saldana, 49. "That question from him really left me perplexed."
The description she posted to the Lower Merion Community Network forum on Facebook prompted outrage, with more than 600 people commenting, many concerned about the incident's racial overtones.
The other shovelers questioned by police were also black, Walsh said.
Race had nothing to do with police conduct, Walsh said, and enforcing the ordinance, which requires any adult conducting door-to-door solicitation to obtain a permit, is commonplace. In the last year, police conducted 140 such stops, he said.
"There's a really good reason for that, because, in order to get such a permit, police do a background check and determine whether it's a legitimate business or not," he said. "Residents can be assured Lower Merion police have checked them."