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President-Elect Trump and Stop and Frisk

During this year’s Presidential Election President-Elect Donald Trump expressed his support for “stop and frisk” policing policies. Such policing policies have been used in several cities in years past and have been a controversial subject for law enforcement and society in general. So what exactly is stop and frisk and how might the Trump administration influence how police officers interact with citizens?

The Origins of Stop and Frisk

During the administration of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the NYPD began an aggressive anti-crime initiative in which patrol officers would approach civilians in high crime areas of the city, engage them in pointed questions regarding their presence in the area and perform a pat search of their person. The idea behind the procedure was that officers would seek out individuals they believe to likely be in possession of weapons or drugs, increase the number of arrests for contraband possession and minor offenses, proactively preventing them from committing more serious offenses. The goal of stop and frisk was to reduce the overall crime rate, particularly for more serious violent crimes. The policy was immediately controversial and widely believed to be disproportionately enforced toward minorities. Eventually civil rights groups initiated a federal lawsuit against the NYPD in the case of Floyd v. City of New York. In Floyd, a federal district court judge ruled that while the practice itself was not unconstitutional, the manner in which the NYPD conducted stop and frisks from 2005-2013, without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and often on the basis of a person’s race, was unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

Stop and Frisk Under New York Law

While the 2013 federal court ruling found stop and frisk to be legally sound under the U.S. Constitution, the practice is rather questionable under New York state law. In 1976, the New York Court of Appeals decided the case of People v. DeBour, establishing the levels of permissible police conduct when approaching and engaging citizens in the street. In DeBour, the Court set forth the criteria by which police officers may confront individuals in the street in four increasingly intrusive levels. A level 1 stop allows an officer to approach an individual and request information if he has an objective, credible reason to do so. A level 2 stop may further question an individual if he has a founded suspicion that the person may be involved in some form of criminal conduct. A level 3 stop allows an officer to forcibly stop a person if he has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a crime or is about to engage in criminal conduct. If during a level 3 stop the officer fears the person may possess a weapon, he may conduct a pat down search of their person. Finally, a level 4 stop of an actual arrest is allowed if the officer has reasonable cause to believe the citizen has committed a crime. Under the DeBour criteria, stop and frisk seemingly violates the requirements for a level 2 stop, skipping directly to a level 3 intrusion in which the officer performs a pat down search without the requisite reasonable suspicion in many cases.

The Future of Stop and Frisk Under the Trump Administration

The recent discussions about stop and frisk during the election stem from the surge of shootings that have occurred in the city of Chicago in recent years. President-elect Trump has stated that he believes the use of stop and frisk in Chicago and other cities will lead to a significant reduction in shootings and other violent crimes. Many critics of stop and frisk believe that statistics from New York City have proven that the practice is not an effective crime reduction tool. Furthermore, many see the practice as being inevitably racially discriminatory. Clearly, following the Floyd decision any use of stop and frisk in the future must be closely monitored to ensure that it is not conducted in a discriminatory fashion or many cases will result in crucial evidence being suppressed and those police agencies facing civil lawsuits.

If you or somebody you care about has been stopped by a police officer and charged with a crime, it is important that you have an experienced criminal defense attorney who can explain your rights and analyze the way the officer stopped you and obtained any evidence that could be used against you. At Team Green Lawyers, our team of former prosecutors knows the law and know how to challenge the evidence against you if you have been subjected to improper police conduct.