With recent events in Baltimore, New York City, and Ferguson police throughout America are asking themselves if it is worth the risk to stop and frisk someone. There is no disputing that police officers who have articulate reasonable suspicion that a person or group is engaged in or about to engage in criminal activity have a right to approach the person or group and make inquiries in regard to their activity. If, during the stop, police develop additional suspicion that the person or group is armed, they have a legal right to conduct limited pat-down searches for weapons. These rights have been clearly defined in the United States Supreme Court Case Terry v. Ohio.
Based on current events, many police officers are unsure or reluctant to engage in field stops. As a result, many urban areas have seen an increase in crime. When acting on reasonable suspicion and conducting one’s self in a professional manner, officers should not refrain from doing their job and should not hesitate to engage in stop and frisk practices. As long as the officer/s have articulate reasonable suspicion to suspect criminal activity is afoot and can clearly articulate their suspicion in writing, then they are well within the law in making the stop. Once the stop is made the officers have a right to conduct a pat-down search for weapons if additional reasonable suspicion develops that the parties they have stopped are armed. If there is no suspicion that the party/s are armed, the officer/s must refrain from engaging in any search of the person/s. The keys for all officers engaged in field stops are:
1. Articulated reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.
This allows the officer to conduct the stop.
2. Additional reasonable suspicion that the person/s is armed.
This allows the officer the right to conduct a pat-down for weapons
3. Document, document, document. The best and only way to support your stop is by documenting every single detail that leads to the stop and pat-down.
If, during the initial stop, the officer’s suspicion turns out to be unfounded, the officer/s need to step back and allow the person or group to walk away.