DC police recently came under fire for allegedly staging the search of a man whom residents believed was an undercover officer to justify illegal stop-and-frisks in the neighborhood. The incident occurred on June 13th, when officers approached and searched a man on the 5200 block of Sheriff Road, NE. Officers found a gun in the man’s possession, which residents say they then used as an excuse to illegally search other people in the area, without just cause. Witnesses said they did not recognize the man with the gun, and believe he was a police plant.
The incident sparked community backlash as police and witness reports conflicted. The conflict came to a head on the evening of June 25th, when police officers and residents clashed on the block, which resulted in the use of pepper spray and four arrests. One woman claimed that police pepper-sprayed her 3-year-old daughter, who had to be treated at a local hospital.
This incident highlights the ongoing tension between DC police and residents of certain east-of-the-river neighborhoods over what residents believe are illegal searches targeting low-income and minority areas. DC police claim that these types of searches are justified by a spike in homicides in certain neighborhoods. WJLA reports that the DC Police crime map indicates a 50% decrease in crime in the area since last year, however.
What Is Stop-and-Frisk?
Stop-and-frisk refers to a controversial set of police practices involving “the brief, non-intrusive police stop of a suspect.” In other words, police officers will temporarily detain, question, and in some cases, even search civilians for weapons and other contraband.
According to the DC Police guidelines that govern the practice, “A ‘stop’ is a temporary detention of a person to determine whether probable cause exists to arrest a person. A ‘frisk’ is a limited protective search on a person to determine the presence of concealed weapons and/or dangerous instruments.”
Controversy Over Stop-and-Frisk
Civil rights activists and Washington DC criminal attorneys challenge stop-and-frisk policies for their alleged violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. And police officers have been accused of racially profiling and unjustly targeting certain minority neighborhoods and demographics. Data from cities with stop-and-frisk programs around the country have generally demonstrated that a majority of these stops were of suspects later found to be innocent.
The Supreme Court has weighed in several times as to the criteria constituting a ‘reasonable suspicion,’ however, these clarifications have been insufficient to assuage public concern that the police are unjustly targeting certain communities.
In Washington D.C., city policy requires that the police department report the number of stops officers to make. According to a Washington DC criminal attorney, despite this requirement for transparency, the department has been accused of inaccurately and underreporting these encounters. The department has also been accused of systematically ignoring certain protocols required for stop-and-frisks.
Stop-and-Frisk and Unjustified Arrests
Although police departments claim stop-and-frisk makes communities safer, the practice risks the rights and privacy of citizens when police do not properly follow protocols. Victims of stop-and-frisk may find themselves unjustly arrested based on evidence that police officers had no legal basis to collect. Those facing charges as the result of a stop-and-frisk search should consult with a Washington D.C. criminal attorney about whether their rights were violated during the arrest.