New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has made it clear. Stop and Frisk, as it is commonly known, saves lives. Some activists thoroughly oppose the program. They believe that Stop and Frisk is nothing more than a violation of one’s personal rights in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Activist also suggests that Stop and Frisk focuses on minorities. This conflict cuts like a knife into the soul of police professionalism.
The very people officers actively work to protect from harm are criticizing the police for following guidelines established by the Terry v Ohio (1968) ruling of the United States Supreme Court. As most readers know, this landmark decision introduced the “reasonable suspicion” rule for frisking a detained person to determine if he or she is armed (for the protection of the officer) or about to commit a criminal act (for the protection of the public).
I too recognize one’s personal rights must not be violated under the law. I also recognize when a police officer suspects criminality is afoot before, during, or after what appears to be a penal law misdemeanor or any felony, a police officer has the authority and duty to stop an individual(s) based solely on reasonable suspicion as directed by the Terry doctrine. As all LEOs know, Stop and Frisk is only permissible within an officer’s geographical area of employment, a protection for citizens not often reviewed in discussions of this issue.
The landmark case of Terry v Ohio serves as the Bright Line rule which guides officers in enforcing the well-being of society without violating one’s constitutional rights. This is a weighty responsibility. Taking appropriate and legal action is a challenge for LEOs. Society has made harsh judgments of law enforcement. Many have predetermined that actions taken law enforcement are illegal, prejudicial, and without merit. Nothing can be further from the truth.
This is the challenge NYPD faces. If NYPD’s mission to protect society is circumvented, then chaos will ensue. Political and personal interests must not override the commitment and responsibility of the police to all New York City residents. Other complaints typically generated are after a person is stopped pursuant to the Terry Doctrine, there is no further action taken by the police. People have indicated they were neither issued a citation nor placed under arrest. A police officer should not be criticized. The officer is to be complimented for following the guidelines set by the Terry Doctrine.
Stop and Frisk may be initiated based simply on mere reasonable suspicion. This is the lowest level of proof required by law. Since the practice is based only on suspicions, a person may be stopped, but not arrested unless probable cause for arrest is established.
In New York, a person may be stopped and subsequently frisked if an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe an individual is armed and a danger to the officer. Upon completing the frisk, the subject will be subject to arrest if the person is illegally carrying a firearm. On the other hand, if an individual is in possession of a firearm and found not to be dangerous and legally carrying, police will return the firearm.
The term Stop and Frisk is misleading. Stop and Frisk is not the proper term when referring to the Terry Doctrine. The term itself suggests wrongdoing. The proper terminology is Stop, Question, and Possibly Frisk. Does this mean stopping and frisking an individual immediately is improper or illegal? The answer is no! An immediate frisk has to do with the guidelines of the Terry Doctrine. An officer may conduct an immediate frisk if the officer reasonably suspects the person is armed and a threat.
The action taken by the police is Stop, Question, and possibly Frisk. The action taken by the police is determined by the circumstances present along with the actions of the person stopped based on reasonable suspicion. A Stop, Question, and Frisk is not prejudicial. I took the time to visit the NYPD website. I found the Stop, Question, and Possibly Frisk posted. There is no reference to Stop and Frisk as a policy. A policy is created and enforced by a procedure. The policy and procedure in place are for the betterment of society, all individuals, and law enforcement personnel.
In Terry v Ohio Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the Court. The Chief Justice stated that the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure is applicable to the states pursuant to the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” The Fourth Amendment protects people, not places.”
Commissioner Kelly’s firm stance regarding Stop and Frisk is a demonstration of the true value of professional decision making compared to one’s idealistic opinion. Stop and Frisk is being revisited. The NYPD’s First Quarter Stop and Frisk Report for 2012 (January – March) compared to the Second Quarter Report (April – June) indicates Stop and Frisk declined by 34% and major crimes spiked by 12%. According to the New York Post, there were 27,832 major crimes in the second quarter, up from 24,751,
During the significant drop of Stop and Frisks initiated in the Second Quarter it would be prudent to remember the words spoken by the Police Commissioner: “Stop and Frisks save lives.” The drop in Stop and Frisks also occurred following public protests against the police. This decision also followed an ACLU June announcement of a free phone application for all New Yorkers to use at no expense. This was done to enable New Yorkers to record police completing a Stop and Frisk. The recording is then to be forwarded directly to the ACLU.
During the Third Quarter, a four-year-old African-American child was shot and killed in a Bronx playground. Three people are in custody. Police believe the incident is gang related. The child was killed in crossfire. In Brooklyn, a two year old girl was shot in her leg as a drive-by shooting occurred. Five other people were wounded as well. One of these victims is the father of the girl. He was shot as he used himself as a shield to protect his daughter.
Crime tends to be intra-racial. If a high-crime area has a high concentration of African-Americans, it is reasonable to believe that a higher percentage of African-Americans are stopped pursuant to a Stop, Question, and Frisk. The likelihood is the law-abiding African-Americans living and working in that community will be protected from wrongdoing, rather than have their constitutional rights abrogated.
Many officers are concerned about the situation they have now found themselves to be in. Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it!
Hopefully, the Third Quarter will improve.
Jim Gaffney, MPA is LET’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying capacities, including patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and executive officer. He is a member of ILEETA, IACP, and the IACSP. Jim received the Medal of Honor upon graduating from Iona College. He then completed a two year study evaluating the Victim-Offender Overlap. Jim graduated Magna Cum Laude upon receiving his Master of Science in Public Administration. He mentors the next generation of LEOs by teaching university-level criminal justice courses as an adjunct professor in the New York City area.
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