The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (November 2014)
Frisking (also called a patdown or pat down) is a search of a person's outer clothing wherein a person runs their hands along the outer garments of another to detect any concealed weapons or objects.
In the United States, a law enforcement officer may briefly detain a person upon reasonable suspicion of involvement in a crime but short of probable cause to arrest; such a detention is known as a Terry stop. When a search for weapons is also authorized, the procedure is known as a stop and frisk. To justify the stop, a law enforcement officer must be able to point to "specific and articulable facts" that would indicate to a reasonable person that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed.
If the officer reasonably suspects that the suspect is in possession of a weapon that is of danger to the officer or others, the officer may conduct a frisking of the suspect's outer garments to search for weapons. The search must be limited to what is necessary to discover weapons; however, pursuant to the "plain feel" doctrine, police may seize contraband discovered in the course of a frisk, but only if the contraband's identity is immediately apparent.
New York City program
The New York City Police Department has come under scrutiny for its use of the Terry stop. Supporters say that it reduces crime, but civil rights advocates say it is racial profiling. John A. Eterno, a former city police captain describes: "My take is that this has become more like a 'throw a wide net and see what you can find' kind of thing. I don't see it as targeted enforcement, especially when you see numbers that we are talking about." Looking at "eight odd blocks of Brownsville, Brooklyn, a study found that between January 2006 and March 2010, the police made nearly 52,000 stops." In a later review of that article about NYC's "Stop, Question, and Frisk" program, as well as the larger issue of Black people's welcome in the city, a columnist wrote "there were a record 580,000 stop-and-frisks in the city in 2009. Most of those stopped (55 percent) were Black (a large portion were also Hispanic), most were young and almost all were male. For reference, according to the Census Bureau, there were about only 300,000 Black men between the ages of 13 and 34 living in the city that year. Six percent of the stops resulted in arrests."
Writing for the Court in Berkemer v. McCarty, Justice Marshall stated
- the usual traffic stop is more analogous to a so-called "Terry stop," see Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968) (468 U.S. at 439)
In Terry v. Ohio, Chief Justice Warren stated
- And in justifying the particular intrusion the police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion. (392 U.S. at 21)
In Terry v. Ohio, Chief Justice Warren stated
- Thus it must be limited to that which is necessary for the discovery of weapons which might be used to harm the officer or others nearby, and may realistically be characterized as something less than a "full" search, even though it remains a serious intrusion. (392 U.S. at 26)
- The sole justification of the search in the present situation is the protection of the police officer and others nearby, and it must therefore be confined in scope to an intrusion reasonably designed to discover guns, knives, clubs, or other hidden instruments for the assault of the police officer. (392 U.S. at 29)
Writing for the Court in Minnesota v. Dickerson, Justice White stated
- If a police officer lawfully pats down a suspect's outer clothing and feels an object whose contour or mass makes its identity immediately apparent, there has been no invasion of the suspect's privacy beyond that already authorized by the officer's search for weapons; if the object is contraband, its warrantless seizure would be justified by the same practical considerations that inhere in the plain-view context. (508 U.S. at 375–376)
- Here, the officer's continued exploration of respondent's pocket after having concluded that it contained no weapon was unrelated to "[t]he sole justification of the search [under Terry:] . . . the protection of the police officer and others nearby." 392 U.S., at 29. It therefore amounted to the sort of evidentiary search that Terry expressly refused to authorize, see id., at 26, and that we have condemned in subsequent cases. (508 U.S. at 378)
- Baker, Al (May 12, 2010). "New York Minorities More Likely to Be Frisked". New York Times. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
- Rivera, Ray, Al Baker and Janet Roberts, “A Few Blocks, 4 Years, 52,000 Police Stops”, The New York Times, July 11, 2010. According to an analysis of data provided by the Police Department and two organizations, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 2011-03-19.
- Blow, Charles, M., “Escape From New York”, Op-ed, The New York Times, March 18, 2011 (March 19, 2011 p. A23 NY ed.). Retrieved 2011-03-19.