Can the Police Be Trusted to Apply This Arrest Tactic?

Can the Police Be Trusted to Apply This Arrest Tactic?

Henry F. Fradella

Security, Americas


‘Stop-and-frisk’ can work, under careful supervision.

In mid-November, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized publicly for his backing of a practice intended to reduce violent crime that had for years been criticized as racially biased. “I realize back then I was wrong, and I’m sorry,” he said.

But his apology, made at a predominantly black church in Brooklyn, puzzled many observers. That included scholars of criminal justice like ourselves.

Bloomberg has long been a vocal supporter of a policy the city police department officially called “Stop, Question, and Frisk,” including during his time as New York’s mayor. In an effort to control crime, police aggressively and indiscriminately stopped and questioned people on the streets or in public housing projects. Police also often patted down suspects to check for weapons.

His apology was confusing because that phrase, often shortened to “stop and frisk,” is used to describe two different things.

As we wrote in our book, “Stop and Frisk: The Use and Abuse of a Controversial Policing Tactic,” one is a legitimate, constitutionally sanctioned tactic, grounded in a police officer’s reasonable suspicion that a particular person is engaged in criminal activity.

The other is an illegitimate, broad crime-control strategy that, more often than not, ignores the law’s requirement that a particular person be reasonably suspected of breaking the law.

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