Stop and Frisk has once again worked its way into the political arena, with the president suggesting that Chicago police strongly consider restarting the use of “stop and frisk” to help curtail the city’s out of control gun violence. Trump offered the suggestion during a speech this week at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in Orlando, Florida.
In response, Matt McGrath, a spokesman for Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, said, “Even someone as clueless as Donald Trump has to know stop-and-frisk is simply not the solution to crime.”
Perhaps both men are correct … in part. Maybe the practice of stop and frisk isn’t the solution to stopping all crime, but could it help to reduce it, especially the alarming total number of shootings that occur in Chicago?
In 2015, Chicago police agreed to outside monitoring of stop-and-frisk searches, an agreement that basically halted the use of the searches, a tool that’s often used by police to remove illegal weapons from the hands of criminals.
I’ve used the tactic numerous times over the years. More than I could possibly count, and it works extremely well when used properly and legally.
The Numbers Tell the Story
Did tying the hands of police officers help curtail shootings in Chicago? Does stop and frisk actually reduce gun violence? Well, see for yourself. Let’s take a peek at the year prior to the near stoppage of stop and frisks as compared to the year after.
The number of homicides in 2015, through December 26 = 480 (keep in mind, stop and frisks were in use through August of the same year).
Homicides through December 26, 2016, the year after stop and frisk practically ceased to exist = 754, a 57% increase over the previous year when officers were permitted to use the tactic to remove illegal guns from the hands of the bad guys.
In 2015, the total number of shooting victims, those who died combined with the survivors of gun shot wounds, through December 26 = 2964
In 2016, the total number of shooting victims, those who died combined with the survivors of gun shot wounds, through December 26 = 4338, a 46% increase.
What is Stop and Frisk?
Here’s how it all began, and it’s nothing new, not by any means.
In the mid 1960’s, when I was still not quite a teenager (yes, this law has been on the books for a long, long time), a Cleveland, Ohio detective named McFadden saw two men, strangers to the area, walking back and forth in front of a store. On each pass the men stopped to look into the store window. McFadden watched the men while they made a dozen or so trips past the storefront. After each trip by the business the two men stopped at the street corner to chat for a minute or two. Soon, a third man met the two men at the corner.
Detective McFadden, being quite the observant and proactive officer, had seen enough to send his “cop radar” into overdrive. He was certain the men were “casing” the place, waiting for just the right moment to rob the store owner. So McFadden approached the three men at the corner, identified himself as a police officer, and then asked for their names. Someone mumbled something but no names were offered. Sensing things could quickly go downhill, McFadden grabbed and spun one of the mumblers around (John W. Terry) and patted the outside of his clothing, feeling a pistol in the man’s coat pocket.
Unable to retrieve the pistol on the street while keeping an eye on all three potential robbers, the detective ordered the men inside the store where he had them face the wall with their hands in the air. McFadden retrieved the pistol from the first suspect’s coat and then patted the clothing of the the other two men. During the searches McFadden located a second pistol. As a result, the three men were detained and taken to the police station. The two men with the guns were charged with possession of a concealed weapon.
On appeal, Terry argued that the officer had violated their constitutional rights according to the 4th amendment (unlawful search and seizure). However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the officer, stating that his search was the minimum action required to see if the men were armed, a necessary tactic to safeguard his safety and the safety of others. And, that the suspects were indeed acting in a manner consistent with the probability of robbing the store owner.
Basically, the Court did not change or add laws to the books. Instead, they upheld that whenever possible and practicable, a police officer must obtain a warrant to conduct a search and seizure. However, they ruled, an exception must be made when “swift action” is required based on the observations of an officer.
Detective McFadden’s stop and frisk tactic has since been known as a Terry Stop. It’s a proactive tactic that prevents some crime before it happens, and it helps reduce the numbers of illegal weapons often carried by criminals. Without Stop and Frisk, bad guys have no fear of being caught carrying a gun.
The Terry Stop According to the Supreme Court ruling Terry v. Ohio
A Terry stop is defined as a brief, temporary involuntary detention of a person suspected of being involved in criminal activity for the purpose of investigating the potential criminal violation.
In order to lawfully conduct a Terry stop, a law enforcement officer must have “reasonable suspicion,” which has been defined as “articulable facts (articulable means able to explain in words) that would lead a reasonable officer to conclude that criminal activity is afoot—more than an unsupported hunch but less than probable cause and even less than a preponderance of the evidence.
A police officer may, in appropriate circumstances and in an appropriate manner, approach a person for the purpose of investigating possible criminal behavior even though there is no probable cause to make an arrest. Also known as the Common Law Right of Inquiry, this section of existing law permits an officer or agent to engage any citizen in a purely voluntary conversation (i.e. “May I speak with you a moment? Do you need any help? How long have you been here?”). In these cases, a citizen must be free to terminate the conversation at any time and go his or her way with no restrictions. This, however, is not a Terry Stop where an officer would conduct a pat-down of the person(s). Remember, this is a voluntary action on the part of the citizen. Terry Stops are not voluntary. In fact, Terry Stops are brief periods of actual detention that may include handcuffing the detained subject for the safety of the officer and others.
*The preceding three paragraphs are excerpted, with some paraphrasing, from FLETC training material. FLETC is the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers.
Based upon Terry v. Ohio, what are officers permitted to do regarding pat-down searches?
Officers may, even without sufficient cause for arrest, briefly detain someone if …
- the officer identifies him/herself as a police officer (either by the uniform and badge, or verbally) and asks reasonable questions regarding the suspect’s current conduct.
- the officer has knowledge of facts that lead them to believe the suspect is involved in some sort of illegal activity.
- the person they’ve stopped does not immediately justify his actions in a manner that satisfies the officer’s suspicions.
Officer’s may conduct a pat-down search during a Terry Stop if they have a reasonable suspicion, based on personal knowledge of facts, that the person is armed.
The Terry Stop is a Search for Weapons
Officers may not, however, go out on “fishing expeditions” under the guise of the Terry Stop. There must be facts supporting their reasons for a “frisk.”
By the way, a pat-down search is exactly as it sounds. Officers may only “pat” the outer surfaces of clothing. They may not reach into a person’s pockets unless they feel a weapon.
There is an exception to the rule, however, and that’s when an officer who has sufficient training and first-hand knowledge of narcotics packaging, “feels” what he/she suspects is a packet of drugs. The skilled officer, one who’s extremely familiar with narcotics and how the various ways they’re wrapped and contained, may then reach into the pocket to retrieve the packet. To do so, the officer must be able to testify under oath, and verify, that he/she has the sufficient experience and training that would give them the knowledge needed to identify narcotics packaging by feel. An example would be an officer who worked undercover or on a narcotics task force, like me. I was deemed an expert witness by the courts and, as an expert, was often called upon by attorneys to testify in various cases.
If an officer’s assignment is to patrol a high crime area of the city, then it should be no problem to spot people who’re engaging in suspicious activity—drug dealers, robbers, rapists, car thieves, etc. Those are the people, the folks involved in some sort of criminal activity, who warrant being stopped and frisked, if they exhibit signs of criminal activity. Not mom and pop and baby brother who’re on their way to church, school, or the grocery store. And certainly it is not permissible or even ethical to stop someone for a pat-down merely because their skin is a certain color.
When used properly, Terry Stops/Stop and Frisks are a highly effective means of removing weapons and illegal narcotics from the street. When crooks know officers may approach and search they’re more apt to leave their guns at home or at least keep them hidden, out of their pockets. And, without having a firearm instantly available, the tendency to shoot first and ask questions later is greatly reduced.
Remember, Stop and Frisk/Terry Stops are still absolutely legal and constitutional, and they’re done each and every day all across the country. This, as current law states, is not debatable. Department policy, however, may differ, such as the policy in Chicago, where politics entered the picture and the department decided to give in to outside pressure, groups who believed the police used stop and frisks to unfairly target people of color.
I can’t say one way or another the Chicago police abused anyone because I’ve not seen seen it with my own eyes. But I can say that without a doubt these stops are an essential part of both proactive and reactive policing, and they save lives.
Stop and frisk prevents many criminals from carrying out their illegal activities. At the very least, the practice helps remove illegal guns from the hands of those who’re likely to injure or kill others.
As of October 8th this year, 2346 people have been shot in Chicago. 419 of those victims are now dead, including 2-year-old Julien Gonzalez, a victim of a drive-by shooting. And 82-year-old Homer Donehue who suffered a gunshot wound to the back when a man wearing a ski mask walked up and opened fire.
Would Mr. Donehue still be around to enjoy his loving family had a police officer stopped and frisked the mask-wearing gunman? What about 2-year-old Julien Gonzalez? :perhaps he’d have grown up to become a Chicago police officer. What about the 436 people in Chicago who were killed this year, so far?
Chicago – 72 people were shot in a single weekend, including 12 fatally.
Why tie the hands of officers? How many of those victims could’ve been spare the horror had police been permitted to do their jobs? How many people would be alive today?
The very men and women who could otherwise prevent you from facing this the next time you and your family visit your local mall …
*Please do not turn this article into a political discussion. It is meant as a learning tool about Stop and Frisk. Nothing more. Again, PLEASE keep politics as far away from this site as possible. I treat it like the plague.