Investigatory stops

This op-ed argues that investigatory stops (as contrasted with ordinary traffic stops) account for the disproportionate experiences of African-American drivers, which in turn helps account for lower levels of trust and confidence in the police.


3 Responses to “Investigatory stops”

  1. Ashley Says:

    I haven’t read their book, so I’m not able to form an opinion yet, but I do have some thoughts regarding this piece.

    In my view, it seems as if they’re discussing Stop-Question-and-Frisk, but the cited examples appear to relate to other situations. My agency doesn’t engage in a formal SQF program, although informal SQF sometimes occurs here when an officer develops reasonable suspicion. As I understand it, the SQF program is a proactive endeavor in that officers are expected to go out and look for suspicious behavior, then take appropriate action. However, it appears much more likely the examples in the op-ed relate to reactive policing. The fact patterns described make it much more likely that the police were investigating reported crimes rather engaging in self-initiated field activity

    The first situation they describe could simply be a matter of the officers later failing to explain the reason for the stop. When an officer makes a stop of the same person shortly after another officer has done the same, it’s very likely because suspect information was broadcast following a recent crime. These stops are perfectly legal, and constitute good police work. However, when explanations are not provided to the people stopped, they’re justifiably angry. A little communication goes a long way in these situations.

    It appears the second example is similar, although we can’t be certain because the narrative stops in the middle. What happened after the officer checked the IDs? Was the officer investigating a recent crime that involved a firearm or other deadly weapon? If and when it was established the people stopped were not involved, did the officer provide an explanation. Again, communication is vital.

    The third situation is less plausible. Showups are a legitimate and valuable police tool, and in my experience, almost always completed in 15 minutes or less. However, I can understand why it may seem much longer to the person being detained.

    As the op-ed notes, most people of all races want the police to actively respond to crime. But it’s incumbent upon officers to ensure people know the facts and circumstances that led to them being stopped. Improving police communication is a better path to building and maintaining community trust than reducing the ability of police to stop people when justified.

  2. Gary Cordner Says:

    Good points, Ash. My guess, also based on lack of details from some of their vignettes, is that a lot of these are pretext stops. So the stops are legally based on some traffic violation, such as failing to signal, but the real reason the officer wanted to make the stop is that he or she was suspicious of the vehicle and/or its occupants for some other (non-traffic) reason. If part of what makes an officer suspicious (consciously or unconsciously) is the race of the subject, then you get disproportionality in such stops. Each stop is legal, but the impact is racially disproportionate.

    Another layer to this is that, in some jurisdictions (not all, of course), people of color are disproportionately represented among the perpetrators of street crimes. When that is the case, then arguably the police are justified in being more suspicious of minorities (especially young guys, who do most street crime). This creates a cruel situation or vicious cycle. Young African Americans are justifiably angry about getting singled out, while the police are statistically justified in singling them out. Add to this the biases that we all carry around in our heads, and it’s just a recipe for conflict, IMHO.

  3. Gunther Says:

    Too many times, people asks a cop what is going on and cop will not and/or can not explained what is happening and just tells the person to shut up or the cop will get tick off it the person refuses to answer the cop’s questions and invokes his/her constitutional rights. Either way the person who gets stop is screw or will get screw up and the cop is still unable or unwillingly to provide a legal reason for the stop nor will provide an explanation for the stop and there is no apology from the cop. Furthermore, the police seem to unable to provide more detail information to each other regarding the phyiscal appearance of the suspect except his/her racial makeup. Nothing about height, weight, tatooes, clothing, etc.

    If you look at what is happening in Freguson, the poor people and minorities are being pick on by their own political leaders to provide more revenue since rich people and corporations have sent the jobs overseas and/or refusing to pay their share of taxes and they use the police to ticket people left and right to provide the money.

    Lack of trust by young Afro-American by the police? You have a lot of older Afro-Americans who have mistrusted the police since the day they were born.

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