Stop-and-Frisk Theoretical Evidence-Based Models


Nowadays, there are rather many law enforcement policies and criminal justice issues in the USA. They are considered controversial both by public and scholars, yet these policies cannot be repealed without substantive and solid evidence that they are ineffective and harmful. It is especially difficult to eliminate and change policies that have been implemented with the use of theoretical evidence-based models, thereby providing evidence to support their implementation and continued use. One of such policies is the stop-and-frisk policy that is a proactive policy allowing the police to stop suspicious individuals on the streets, ask them questions, and frisk them in case these individuals do not provide satisfactory answers or officers are worried that the latter may harm them. Of course, there are legal limitations to the polices allowed practices, but generally police officers can stop and frisk virtually any person. This policy is traditionally associated with New York and the NYPD since this department provides regular reports relating to their stop-and-frisk activities and gets into the limelight of media attention because of excessive use of the policy, claims about racial profiling and discrimination. However, the policy is used by every police department all over the country even though they rarely get into the center of attention for such activities. Therefore, it seems reasonable and important to provide a brief overview of the policy and discuss a theoretical evidence-based model upon which this policy implementation decision was based, so as to understand it better and see possible problems with its continued use, as well as benefits gained from its implementation.

Brief Overview of the Policy

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Contrary to a widespread opinion shaped by media stories related to the current implementation of stop-and-frisk, this policy is not new and has existed in the USA for decades. The matter is that the police has always performed stop-and-frisk in some form while performing their duties and checking on suspicious individuals, trying to prevent a crime, or investigating a crime that has already been committed. However, officially the stop-and-frisk policy appeared in 1964 when the New York state legislative body adopted an amendment to an existing statute that allowed police officers to stop any individuals suspected being involved in a crime on a reasonable suspicion (Evans et al., 2014). This way, the legislators lowered the standard from a probable cause to a reasonable suspicion in order to provide the police with an opportunity to prevent crimes proactively. In 1968, the policy was reviewed by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio The Supreme Court ruled that stopping and frisking activities should be considered as constitutional under certain conditions and did not violate any of the Amendments if police officers did not overstep boundaries of their duties (Brooks et al., 2014). The Court held that reasonable suspicion means more than just a mere hunch, a gut feeling, or intuition that a suspect is up to no good (Harris, 2013, p. 859). Stopping means stopping an individual on a street by a police officer and asking questions to eliminate suspicions, whereby the individual has the right to ignore the officer and walk away (Glasser, 2011). If the officer does not let the individual go, then the instance involves a forcible stop (Glasser, 2011, p. 2). In case the officer has reasonable suspicions, he/she can perform a pat-down frisk, which is a limited search subject to the requirements of the Fourth Amendment (Glasser, 2011, p. 2). The only legal justification for such frisk is suspicion that the individual is armed and poses danger to the officer and public. In turn, a full search can be justified only with probable cause and involves emptying of pockets and a more thorough search of the individual.

Hence, the policy has existed in its current form since 1968 and the police have had an opportunity to operate in line with the legal standard of reasonable suspicion. Initially, police officers stopped and frisked individuals suspected of committing a crime, yet over the years a list of justifications used by officers to initiate stop-and-frisk has expanded considerably. For instance, currently police officers from the NYPD cite furtive movement as the most frequently used reason of stopping individuals at the level of 51% of all stops as of 2011 (Evans et al., 2014). Such reason as suspected crime was listed only in 36% of all instances (Brooks et al., 2014). Similarly, the scope and frequency of the policy implementation have increased considerably over decades with a rapid increase in the total number of stops growing since 2001. Hence, in New York the number of people stopped and frisked increased from 97,296 in 2002 to a record number of 685,724 in 2011 with the total number of individuals stopped and frisked amounting to 4,356,927 during this period from 2002 to 2011 (Evans et al., 2014). Although, the number of successful stops and frisks, i.e. the ones resulting in a submission of a case to the court, was only 1.14% on average during the same period (Center for Constitutional Rights, 2012).

The above statistics concerns only New York and, in fact, stop-and-frisk activities of the NYPD are the most frequently studied and discussed nowadays. The main reason for that is the lack of data relating to the policy implementation in other cities of the USA as their police departments do not follow strict reporting procedures used by the New Yorks police (Harris, 2013). Nonetheless, it is necessary to emphasize that Stop-and-frisk is not a New-York-only tactic, and therefore it should not be a New-York-only story (Harris, 2013, p. 857). However, in order to make it the national story, some universal reporting procedures should be implemented as a part of the policy all over the country, which would allow studying the true extent of the policy, as well as its benefits and shortcomings, since now the policy is mostly discussed within the context of New York.

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As mentioned above, the only legal justification for stop-and-frisk is reasonable suspicion, but the research shows that police officers have various reasons to initiate the procedure in practice. Hence, it has been revealed that top five reasons for initiating a stop and frisk include patrolling in a high-crime area, time of the day that is considered to be conducive to committing crimes, fugitive movements of suspicious individuals, chasing a victim or a location, and proximity to a crime scene (Avdija, 2013). Time of the day is among the relatively recently revealed reasons affecting the officers decision to initiate the stopping procedure and empirical evidence shows that most stops and frisks occur between 6 pm and midnight (Avdija, 2013). Furthermore, the policy is conventionally claimed to be a form of racial profiling as it supposedly discriminates against representatives of minorities. The research by Avdija (2013) and other sources of statistics relating to the policy show that this might be true as 92% of all stopped and frisked individuals are minorities with 57% being African Americans, 32% being Latino, and 3% being Asians (Avdija, 2013). Similarly, the policy is gendered as males are 2.8 times more likely to be stopped and frisked than females (Avdija, 2013). However, in order to understand whether the policy is truly discriminatory by race, it is necessary to obtain and analyze data from all police departments all over the country rather than from the NYPD only.

In its current form, the policy is said to have a significant impact on individuals who are subjected to stop and frisk procedures, including emotional, social, psychological, and economic hurdles (Center for Constitutional Rights, 2012). The research conducted by Center for Constitutional Rights (2012) shows that the most frequently mentioned impacts cited by objects of the policy include inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, police brutality, psychological trauma, humiliation, continued fear, improper arrests for possession of small quantities of marijuana, unemployment, loss of access to shelter and public benefits, and consequences of arrests. As a result of intensification of stops and frisks in New York, many citizens claim that they feel like they are living under siege. As one of the interviewed citizens said, We dont feel protected by the police...I think the main job of the police is protecting the community, and what theyre doing is just bullying us (Center for Constitutional Rights, 2012, p. 20). The above presented evidence has been gathered after implementation of the policy, and it is necessary to determine what theoretical evidence-based model governed a decision to implement it in the first place.

Theoretical Evidence-Based Model upon which the Policy Implementation Decision Was Based

No policy can be implemented without a solid theoretical foundation, thereby relying on provisions and principles of some theoretical model selected by the policy authors and respective decision-makers. Young et al. (2002) point out that recently policy making has started relying on evidence, thus preferring a theoretical evidence-based model. These authors also present such five main theoretical evidence-based models: knowledge-driven, problem-solving, interactive, political or tactical, and enlightenment models. Based on the description of models, the stop-and-frisk policy can be determined as the one depending on the problem-solving model as in this case research follows policy, and policy issues shape research priorities (Young et al., 2002, p. 216). The policy was adopted to solve a problem of high crime rate, yet there was no empirical evidence at the time that this goal could be achieved through legalizing stop-and-frisk activities. It is also evident that the policy was not preceded by any comprehensive research as to the effectiveness of implementing a proactive policy, and opinions of citizens were not studied with respect to the expansion of the police duties and lowering of legal standards governing the law enforcement actions. Currently, researchers study various issues emerging with respect to the policy implementation, for instance, racial profiling, impacts of the policy, and the like. However, results of the studies have not yet been used by decision-makers with a view to amending the policy.

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In fact, criticism of the evidence-based policy and the given models by Freiberg & Carson (2010) seems to be highly reasonable and valid. As these authors claim (2010, p. 156), evidence may be a necessary, but not sufficient condition for the successful adoption or implementation of policy and the problem-solving model used for stop-and-frisk policy adoption failed to take into account emotions and affect. This model is based on a linear relation between evidence and policy, yet it fails to consider context, emotions, affect, and available knowledge. Currently, the stop-and-frisk policy has been causing growing dissatisfaction among citizens, courts, and even politicians who suppose that it is not effective and places a significant burden on the public that is not compensated with any obvious benefits (Bellin, 2014). Therefore, it is necessary to revise the policy with account for available evidence and findings of numerous researches relating to the policy and opinions of the public. Moreover, the theoretical enlightenment model seems to be the most relevant model for a revised version of the policy, as it takes the context into consideration.


Withal, the stop-and-frisk policy is one of the most controversial policies that has existed for more than four decades and whose implementation was based on the problem-solving theoretical evidence-based model. However, the model fails to take into account emotion and affect, which may be a core reason why the policy has been falling out of favor with both citizens and politicians. Besides, the policy is associated with a number of topical problems widely discussed and studied by researchers with racial profiling being the most significant one. The matter is that police officers tend to stop and frisk representatives of minorities more often than Whites, which makes implementation of the policy discriminatory in terms of race. Furthermore, there is an evident lack of official statistics and data relating to the policy implementation in the country as the NYPD is among the few departments that follows clear reporting procedures. Therefore, the policy has to be revised, reviewed, and amended with account for available evidence, as well as with consideration for the context and emotions in order to become truly effective and efficient.

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