by Bahiya Lawrence, Esq.
Some of us have witnessed it, others have experienced it, but most of us should be aware of the infamous stop and frisk or Terry Stop procedure used by many police departments nationwide. The controversial law allows a law enforcement officer to conduct a limited pat-down search of your body.
The stop and frisk procedure originated from the Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio in 1968. The procedure is supposedly justified when an officer has established reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is formed when an officer based on their experience, background, training, and knowledge, combined with articulable facts and circumstances, witnesses conduct which leads them to believe that criminal activity is afoot. The officer can then proceed to frisk (pat-down) the individual if they believe that individual is armed and poses a present and immediate danger. The purpose of the pat-down is to find any contraband/weapons on the individual. Also, the pat-down is supposed to be on the outer-layer of the individuals clothing.
Although the Fourth Amendment protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures, many people have been subjected to Terry Stops, which seemingly have become more of a humiliating and intimidating tactic, than a safety measure imposed by law enforcement officers. For example, in New York, individuals stopped during a Terry Stop have their names documented in a database, regardless if they are arrested. However, some statistics and studies reflect that the consistent use of Terry Stops has helped to reduce the percentage of gun violence and drug activity throughout the boroughs. In Philadelphia, improved stop and frisk training methods were implemented after the city was hit with a major class action suit alleging the tactic was specifically targeting minority males. Also, the New Orleans Police Department has recently been under scrutiny because their stop and frisk methods seem to be turning into racial profiling. The NOPD maintains records of the stops, but it was discovered that not only was the software recording the stops flawed, but also officers were not accurately reporting the reasons for stopping certain individuals.
While Terry Stops may be beneficial for deterring and even preventing criminal activity, there should certainly be better safe guards in place and training on how to conduct the stops to avoid violating one’s civil liberties, and making a neighborhood seem like an internment camp.
This article is for informative and educational purposes only, and should not be understood as legal advice.
Bahiya Lawrence is a Pennsylvania attorney serving the Greater Philadelphia and Montgomery County areas. She can be contacted at: [email protected]