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Stop and Frisk in Gotham

Clarkston Legal Nov. 16, 2013

Federal Judge Shira ScheindlinWhen a police officer has good reason to stop someone on the street to ask a basic question like, “what is your name?” or, “what are you doing?”, he has a right not to receive a bullet for an answer. In some places in our country, here in the 313 or, say, Gotham, police are often viewed as the enemy, especially by the thugs on the streets patrolled by those officers.

Police officers are trained to identify and stop crime. Their training and experience translates into certain tactics used on the streets in the course of their daily job duties.

One such tactic endorsed by the SCOTUS 45-years ago, in a case called Terry vs Ohio, is the “stop-and-frisk”. A stop-and-frisk is where a police officer with a “particularized suspicion” [something less than probable cause] that a person may be involved in criminal conduct, can stop the person -briefly detain the individual- in order to ask them some basic questions.

In the process of stopping the individual and asking them basic questions, the officer may pat down the outer clothing of the individual in order to ensure no weapons are present and to facilitate the safety of the officer, the stopped individual, and innocent bystanders. Think Sheriff Andy Williams strolling through Mayberry.

In theory, this pat down search must be brief and minimally intrusive, limited to the outer clothing of the individual; it cannot be a search for evidence. How a particular officer conducts a basic pat down search says a lot about his personality; where a pat down search takes place is a huge factor in whether there will be trouble, or not.

On the mean streets of NYC, like here in the “D”, officers have their hands full. Routine stop-and-frisks can become a full-on fleeing, eluding and shooting in a matter of seconds.

In recent years, much grumbling has percolated up from the streets of Gotham due to the manner in which the NYPD handles its stop-and-frisk maneuvers. The NYPD has been criticized for using racial profiling techniques in the prosecution of this law enforcement tactic.

In turn, this has led to a recent series of strident rulings by a federal judge in Manhattan. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin has ordered sweeping changes to the NYPD, including a suspension of the stop-and-frisk policy as well as the appointment of a monitor for the department.

These rulings have been appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by the legal department of the outgoing Bloomberg administration. Last month, the Second Circuit stayed Judge Scheindlin’s rulings pending resolution of the appeal.

Of course, nothing ever being simple in Gotham, Judge Scheindlin put her thumb print all over these cases through a questionable maneuver to steer all the “stop-and-frisk” cases into her courtroom, and by granting media interviews about the cases while they were still being prosecuted in her Manhattan courtroom.

Now, however, some City bureaucratic leaders, and law-enforcement oriented folk, fear that the new administration of mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will withdraw the City’s appeals of Judge Scheindlin’s so-called anti-NYPD rulings. NYC is the only entity with standing to appeal the rulings.

We shall see how these cases turn out in Manhattan. While there could be some implication for all big-city police departments, here in Detroit, the DPD has a host of other problems distinct from how they conduct their stops and frisks.