Opinion: Let’s properly understand ‘stop and frisk’
Mike Restaino misunderstands the law regarding “stop and frisk” and its role in a 2013 US District Court case in New York. Mr. Restaino states in his Out of the Blue opinion piece dated September 29 and titled, “Democrats: Don’t Panic” that, “This act was deemed unconstitutional in 2013 …”
This statement is false.
The United States Supreme Court upheld the “stop and frisk” procedure in 1968 in the landmark case of Terry v. Ohio. A “stop” involves the temporary detention of an individual when an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe he is engaged in criminal activity; a “frisk” involves a pat down when an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe he is armed and dangerous. These acts occur prior to an officer having probable cause to arrest a suspect. “Stop and frisk” is an invaluable investigative tool used to prevent crime.
As stated more eloquently by US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, “ … we cannot blind ourselves to the need for law enforcement officers to protect themselves and other prospective victims of violence in situations where they may lack probable cause for an arrest. When an officer is justified in believing that the individual whose suspicious behavior he is investigating at close range is armed and presently dangerous to the officer or to others, it would appear to be clearly unreasonable to deny the officer the power to take necessary measures to determine whether the person is in fact carrying a weapon and to neutralize the threat of physical harm.”
In 2013, US District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin held that New York’s “stop-and-frisk” strategy focused too heavily on black and Hispanic individuals and was carried out too often without reasonable suspicion. Consequently, she ruled that New York’s stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional “as applied.”
She specifically stated she was not ordering New York officers to end stop-and-frisk, but instead, ordered the city’s police to reform their training and policing procedures to ensure officers do not engage in racial profiling when determining who to detain.
Interestingly, and somewhat oddly, the Court of Appeals for the Second District halted the reforms she ordered, remanded the case to a lower court for further review and removed her from the case.
What needs to be understood is the importance of the “stop and frisk” procedure in preventing crime. It is a crucial investigative strategy.
Following are two examples of its common use. First, when an officer observes an individual, wearing dark clothing, with a mask over his head, at 2 a.m., casing a home in a neighborhood which has recently experienced a string of robberies, he may temporarily detain or “stop” the individual to determine if the individual is involved in criminal activity. If he notices what appears to be a weapon in the individual’s pocket, he may pat him down or “frisk” him to confirm or dispel his suspicion.
Second, when an officer stops a person who is driving too slowly, without his lights on at night, and has slurred speech, he may temporarily detain or “stop” the person to request that he submit to a few field sobriety tests.
The important point to remember is that the without the ability to “stop” or “frisk” an individual and investigate suspicious circumstances, an officer must wait until he has probable cause to believe a crime has already been committed before he can act. So, the question you must ask is: Do I want to live in a world in which an officer must wait for the robber to break into my home, the driver to hit me head on, or a child
molester to abduct my child, before the officer can intervene?
“Stop and frisk” is not just an effective form of crime prevention when applied lawfully, it is a necessary and critical one. To view otherwise, indicates a misunderstanding of “stop and frisk.”
Please note, officers may not lawfully stop a person without reasonable, articulable suspicion to believe criminal activity is occurring under Terry v. Ohio. To do so would be a violation of that person’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.
Jennifer Suter, Esq., is an Incline Village resident and attorney.