An Outside View of Stop & Frisk

Regardless of what you might think of NYPD’s stop & frisk in theory or, by extension, those who fought against and defeated it in court, consider that more than a few voices of speaking out wore blue. Some considerations when controversy embroils a...


What, really, is the point of this action, policy, or practice?

Here is a question to consider:  If no NYPD officer is prohibited from making a lawful Terry-stop now, even after stop & frisk was declared unconstitutional, then what was the purpose for the program to exist in addition to officers pre-existing right and responsibility to stop & frisk based on reasonable and articulable suspicion?  The answer to that question, and how the program was ultimately implemented, are at the core of the debate whether the program

With Terry vs Ohio being decided case law for 45 years, what possible justification could exist to add to it?  That it was mostly applied in high crime areas?  Scheindlin’s decision was that, at least programmatically, the threshold of reasonable suspicion was not being, and its application in predominantly poor African-American and Latino communities was discriminatory.  The 4th Amendment has no exceptions for those unfortunate enough to live in dangerous neighborhoods.

Explain fully and articulately why programs and practices – especially controversial ones – exist

What seemed poorly explained to the public (remember, the people from whom we derive our authority and on whose behalf the decision that stop & frisk was declared unconstitutional) is why the program existed in the first place.  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg became the most visible and vocal supporter of stop & frisk and its de facto spokesperson, despite being a businessman and politician with no police experience (who nonetheless felt justified criticizing Scheindlin – a lawyer and federal judge – for not having any policing experience).  Bloomberg, with his special brand of paternalistic condescension, issued ham-handed, simplistic, and arguably racially insensitive comments to further muddy any understanding of how and why stop & frisk came to be.

You see, stop & frisk has a basis in established law.  The rules for the program come from New York State Criminal Procedure Law section 140.50 established based on (drum roll, please….) Terry vs Ohio!  In addition, the program was also operated, at least in part, in conjunction with NYPD’s Operation Clean Halls, a program wherein private property owners grant officers prior permission to enter a property for enforcement against criminal activity.  Under this operation, NYPD officers could patrol these properties where they had been granted entry to certain common areas and confront “suspected trespassers” and others whom they suspected of possible criminal activity.  Although Clean Halls generated plenty of controversy of its own in its enactment, application and outcomes, this component of the debate is largely unknown or not remembered in our Attention-Deficit Disordered view of what we see in the media.  The media sound bytes from which most of us are forced to absorb our understanding of the news are inadequate to fully comprehension an issue’s true scope.  Stop & frisk has been in the news for months but, until I took it upon myself to dig just a little bit deeper, what it really meant was mystery shrouded in frustrated rhetoric.

Explain fully and articulately why programs and practices – especially controversial ones – exist.  If your explanations don’t pass the legal sniff test, maybe the program should be revamped or even scrapped.

Have officers on board

Politicians and police administrators:  This is critical!  Before you implement a program make sure it is one your rank-and-file can and will get behind.  If it doesn’t pass the legal sniff test I mentioned, or it smacks of a quota or numbers-based performance metric over solid policing, or your cops start feeling discomfort that its driving some of their peers to cut corners or misapply their power to meet empirical goals, it’s most likely doomed. 

All the above were concerns raised not just by activists and citizens concerned about alleged abuses, they reflected various concerns brought up by NYPD officers themselves and their representatives.  NYPD Captain (Ret.) John A Eterno Ph.D wrote, in a New York Times opinion piece (“Policing by the Numbers”) in June 2012 quoted a current officer assigned to a high crime area:

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