Stop & Frisk Keeps Cops and Communities Safe

By Steve Pomper

The problem with a phrase like “stop and frisk” is it doesn’t infer preconditions. Such as an officer must have reasonable suspicion (based on objective and subjective criteria) to believe the likelihood of criminal activity exists before police can even stop a person, never mind frisk them. And though reasonable suspicion doesn’t rise to the level of probable cause, officers still must meet the legal standards to stop and then frisk a suspicious person.

In fact, it’s confounding that one Democrat candidate for the presidential nomination, former three-term Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, who’d been a staunch proponent of and authorized stop, question, and frisk when he was mayor, is now sprinting away from the issue as if someone were about to douse him with a 64 oz. Big Gulp.

Still, Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t hesitate to extol that during his tenure violent crime dropped, and many believe, and logic suggests it was, because of stop and frisk. Some opponents of the tactic have painted the tactic with a broad brush, labeling it “racist.” And while a police officer can violate any tactic, technique, or policy, the simple fact is cops all over America stop and frisk suspicious people and have for decades. And do you know who endorses it? The U.S. Supreme Court.

Stop and frisk, something we called a “shake” in my department while I was on the job, is nothing more than a nickname for what cops know as a “Terry Stop.” This proactive method of policing is based on a 1968 Supreme Court case called, “Terry v. Ohio.”

According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, in Terry, “The Court held that to determine whether the police officer acted reasonably in the stop, a court should not look at whether he has a hunch, but rather ‘to the specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his experience.’” In light of the officer’s experience is important.

According to the opinion annotation in Justia.com, the ruling holds, “without probable cause to arrest,” a police officer may stop and frisk (pat down outside clothing) an individual “if the police officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person ‘may be armed and presently dangerous.’”

The reasonable suspicion can come from a variety of factors gleaned from the totality of the circumstances. And race and ethnicity isn’t a factor beyond a witness or victim’s description of a suspect, if there is one.

Not once in my career did I ever stop a white person if the suspect description was black, and I never stopped a black person if a victim described the suspect as white. Same goes for other races and ethnicities.

Some factors that go into a Terry Stop (stop and frisk) are:

Location: is it a high crime area?

Clothing: is the person wearing clothing inconsistent with the weather, i.e. heavy coat in hot weather (to conceal weapon or contraband, or wearing only a t-shirt in cold weather, as if a jacket may have been shed to evade the suspect description, etc.?

Time of day: a dark alley at 2 a.m. has different officer safety factors than a crowded downtown sidewalk at noon.

Behavior: is the person attempting to hide from police, ducking into shadows, or making other furtive movements?

Known to officer: has the officer previously contacted the subject for criminal activity? Is it a known burglar coming from behind a house? Does the person have a suspicious bulge under his or her shirt, jacket, in pockets, or waistband?

Mike Callahan wrote an excellent article, which appeared in PoliceOne.com, that articulates things officers should keep in mind to successfully and properly use the tactic.

Any one element alone may or may not necessarily be enough to conduct a Terry Stop. But the tactic has been responsible for taking an enormous number of illegally possessed firearms off the streets. Wait… I thought taking illegal guns “off the streets” was something the anti-gun rights folks support. It seems they’re more interested in disarming law-abiding gun owners than law-breaking gun criminals. Weird, eh?

According to Heather MacDonald, writing in The Hill, the NYPD’s use of stop, question, and frisk, reduced “the city’s homicide rate down another 50 percent… [from former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s tenure] from 2002 to 2013.” And “Sixteen hundred minority lives were saved in the process.” MacDonald also said, “Proactive police stops are among the most effective crime-fighting tools that cops on the beat have.” MacDonald points out only “about half of [NYPD] police stops entail a pat-down (or frisk).”

It’s also important to remember that while Terry Stops have as a byproduct the taking of illegal guns off the streets, the tactic’s primary function is to increase officer safety during encounters with potentially dangerous individuals. By the way, it also keeps the person being investigated safe.

For example, an officer might contact a suspicious person who’s got his hands in his pocket and there may also be an object in a pocket. As long as the subject’s hands are in his pockets, the officer is not safe, but neither is the person the cop is investigating.

If the person suddenly brings that object out, whether it’s a gun, knife, or cellphone, the officer must react quickly. This is when things can go sideways and the officer or the suspect can get hurt. If the subject’s hands are out of his pockets, and the officer has patted him down and discovered it is a cellphone in his pocket, they’re both safer. If the officer finds a gun and takes it away and arrests the suspect, then the cop is safer, the suspect is safer (from getting shot by the cop or another hoodlum), and the community is safer.

The point is just because opponents to law and order say stop and frisk is “racist” doesn’t change the reality it’s not. As I said, some cops may violate the legal requirements for a proper Terry Stop, which might make that individual racist, but it doesn’t make the tactic inherently racist. The abuse is on the officer, and if it can be proven, that officer needs to be held accountable.

Critics, even in a lesson plan developed by KQED Learning, note “data showed that police disproportionately targeted people of color.” But Terry Stops are not about racist police, although these educators seem to believe it is. These educators teach students their biased opinions about cops, which the students carry with them into adulthood. How depraved is it to lead students to believe the average cop is racist?

I recently read an account regarding “disproportionate targeting of minorities” where the writer believed traffic citations, arrest warrants issued, and Terry Stops conducted should reflect a population’s racial and ethnic composition—exactly.

For instance, if a community were roughly one-third white, a third black, and a third Hispanic, then the police statistics should reflect a third, third, and third of tickets, warrants, and Terry Stops distributed evenly across racial and ethnic lines. If it doesn’t, they teach, the cops must be racist. But the real world doesn’t work that way because facts get in the way.

What if the crime rate is higher in one racial or ethnic group than another? Wouldn’t the tickets, warrants, and stops be higher with the racial or ethnic group that was committing more infractions or crimes? I’m no math whiz, but doesn’t this make sense? Sure, there are multiple sociocultural dynamics behind the disparity, but racism doesn’t seem to be a factor in the disparity, if you take the time to look at the facts.

In a story at the Daily Wire, Aaron Bandler investigated “7 Statistics That Show That ‘Systemic Racism’ Doesn’t Exist In Policing.” The story begins with a Harvard study I’ve referred to in other articles. Professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. called his study’s conclusions “the most surprising results of my career.”

Professor Fryer studied more than 1,300 police shootings over a 15-year period. He found “blacks are actually 20 percent less likely to be shot at by police than whites, despite the fact that blacks and whites are just as likely to be carrying a weapon.”

According to another study at John Jay College, “whites are 1.7 times more likely than blacks to die at the hands of police.” It’s all about how it’s reported by the mainstream media, folks. They’re ripping you off of the truth you should have gotten from them.

To nutshell some other items on Bandler’s list:

Studies such as these, FBI statistics, as well as the work scholars like Heather MacDonald have done, prove objectively and statistically, as Bandler concludes, “there is no evidence of systemic racism in policing.” But for some folks, it’s just too damned easy to call the cops “racist” and blame them for—well, anything and everything?

For people to believe the police are racists and the stop and frisk tactic is racist, people would have to assume police officers generally have a nefarious intent regarding a subject’s race. But it’s not the nefarious intent of the police that’s truly at question because the vast majority of cops are not racist.

What’s at question is the anti-cop activists perpetuating a fictional nefarious intent exhibited only by a malicious caricature of the police. People also have to accept the warped identity politics of racial division that is hobbling Americans’ natural desire to get along so everyone can pursue his or her happiness.

One significant hitch with this racist view of the NYPD and stop, question, and frisk is in the police department’s increasingly diverse racial and ethnic composition. According to NYC’s official website, on December 27th 2013, Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly attended the graduation and swearing in of some 1,171 new cops. These recruits were born in 45 countries and speak 48 foreign languages.

Anyone think the racial and ethnic diversity in recruiting has gone down during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure?

New York’s Finest and stop, question, and frisk (Terry Stop) are not racist and people should stop letting police-critics get away with lying about the cops and this proactive tactic that helps keeps them and their city safe.

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