Investigation 101 Stop, Question and Frisk

The police use of Stop, Question and Frisk, has begun a national debate. Is it being used properly and within the bounds of the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Terry v. Ohio?

1. Stop, Question and Frisk is a law.

No, Stop, Question and Frisk was a United States Supreme Court decision that stemmed from the court case, Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

2. The real name of the police tactic is Stop and Frisk.

No, the correct name of the police tactic is Stop, Question and Frisk.
3. The purpose of a Stop, Question and Frisk is to arrest the person and therefore it is a seizure under the 4th Amendment.

No, Stop, Question and Frisk is an investigatory tool that allows the short detention of an individual with minimal interruption of their movement. However, there is no time frame when it must be completed.

4. The level of proof necessary for the police to use this tactic is Probable Cause.

No, the level of proof is Reasonable Suspicion, a lower level of police intrusion when they come into contact with a member of the public. Reasonable Suspicion is simply defined as the police believe, “a person is committing, has committed or is about to commit a felony or penal law misdemeanor.”

5. The Police must follow the process in order: Stop, Question and then Frisk.

No, when the stop is for serious and violent crime, the police can conduct an automatic Frisk for weapons. This decision was based on the type of crime being investigated. This is designed to protect not only the officer, but the public as well.

6. Is a Frisk an automatic search?

No, the police must have reasonable suspicion that he / she is in danger of physical injury. Technically, it should be called, Stop, Question and Possibly Frisk because it is not automatic in most instances. It is a limited pat down of the suspect and if they feel what could be a weapon, they can reach in and remove it.

7. During a lawful frisk, the police feel what is believed to be drugs, can they remove them from the individual’s pocket?

It depends on what jurisdiction you live in. The United States Supreme Court recognizes the “Plain Touch” exception to the search warrant. However, not every jurisdiction allows the Plain Touch.

8. Is an anonymous phone tip about a person carrying a firearm, but no other information, enough to justify an officer to Stop, Question and Frisk?

No, an uncorroborated anonymous tip is not enough to justify the use of the police tactic. However, observations by responding officers may rise to the level of reasonable suspicion. For instance, responding officers see a bulge in the waistband of the person which could be a weapon, then a Frisk would be lawful.

9. Are there factors outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court that provides insight to what can raise an officer’s level of suspicion?

Yes, the Supreme Court outlined a number of factors including but not limited to:

– Demeanor of the suspect
– Time of day or night
– Previous knowledge of the suspect
– An overheard conversation
– High crime area

Read more about Terry v. Ohio from the Ohio ACLU