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Major Lesson Plan: Stop and Frisk

Target Audience: Law Enforcement personnel who may be faced with the task of stopping and frisking individuals.

Objective: Provide officers with essential knowledge of the law relating to stop and frisk.

Format: Roll-call/ supervisory training.

Time: Five to ten minutes, but this may be expanded where agency resources allow.

Materials: Law Enforcement Risk Management Legal Update, March 2004; agency policy relating to stop and frisk.

Hypothetical #1:

Police receive an anonymous call that there is a white man, wearing a blue baseball jacket and black pants standing at the bus stop and the man is carrying a gun in his left jacket pocket. Officer McClure responds to the bus stop and observes the man as described.

Question # 1: Can Officer McClure conduct a stop and frisk based upon the dispatched information?

Answer #1: No, the information provided, an anonymous tip which merely provides a physical description of the subject is legally insufficient to support a stop and frisk.

Hypothetical #2: After receiving the call regarding the man at the bus stop, Officer McClure approaches the subject and although Officer McClure has every intention of stopping and frisking the subject, McClure, in a friendly manner asks the man: “May I speak with you for a moment? By the way, we have a report that you have a gun in your pocket, would you mind if I frisked you?

Question #2: If the subject allows Officer McClure to frisk him, is the frisk valid?

Answer #2: Yes, Officer McClure’s intent is not a factor; the issue is whether Officer McClure gave the subject the impression that he had to comply. In the scenario, Officer McClure has maintained the consensual nature of the stop. As such, the frisk is valid.

Hypothetical #3: After receiving the call, Officer McClure approached the subject based upon the anonymous tip and said: “Hey, get over here; put yours hands up; and get up against the wall,” and then asked the subject if he could frisk him.

Question #3: Would the frisk and seizure of the gun be valid?

Answer: No, in this case, Officer McClure’s commands at the start of the stop would lead a person to believe that they had no right to refuse the request. As such a seizure has occurred. The seizure is not supported by reasonable suspicion since the call was based on an anonymous tip that merely provided a description of the subject.

Hypothetical #4: The bus stop in these scenarios is located in a high-crime area. Upon seeing Officer McClure pulling up at the bus stop, the man in the blue baseball jacket and black pants ran. Officer McClure stopped the subject and frisked him leading to the recovery of the gun.

Question #4: Is this a valid stop and frisk?

Answer #4: Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that unprovoked flight in a high-crime area will provide reasonable suspicion to make a stop. While this may not always provide the required reasonable suspicion to conduct a frisk, the information here was that the man had a gun. The information coupled with the flight in the high-crime area will satisfy the reasonable suspicion standard for stop and frisk.

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