Police scholars, nowadays, widely discuss the problem of American police brutality. They try to find the optimal methods and techniques for effective communication between police, criminals, and usual public. One of the common ways, applied by police, to prevent crimes is stop question-and-frisk (SQF). This technique is contradictory due to some ethical issues involved. This paper strives to prove that SQF has the right to exist as a police practice, but its usage has to be strictly regulated.
SQF police method was first applied in 1968, when a policeman, being suspicious of a man’s actions, managed to prevent a crime. Since then, police was allowed to use their reasonable suspicions as a way to determine who is a criminal (Meares, 2014). “The Supreme Court validated [<…]> the common police practice of patting down a stopped suspect’s outer clothing, so long as the police officer possesses a reasonable and articulable suspicion both that criminal activity is afoot and that the person with whom the officer was dealing is armed and dangerous” (Meares, 2014, p. 336). The method is mostly used by the New York police, though it was partially practiced by other big cities (like Chicago) and even countries (like Great Britain). The definition of SQF arises many questions, as to what is a “reasonable suspicion” and who can prove that it is really “reasonable”. The mentioned questions lead to the aspect of racial discrimination in the context of SQF, making the issue even more controversial (Meares, 2014). My idea is that it is quite logic that people and police scholars started discussing ethical, namely racial aspects of SQF, but a reasonable compromise to solve the issue can be found.
It is important to determine whether the validity of a policeman’s reasonable suspicion and racial discrimination aspects are related in the context of SQF. Pure statistical data can give some explanations as to this question. “Between January 2004 and June 2012, New York City officers made over 4.4 million stops; 52 percent of these were of blacks, 31 percent of Hispanics. Blacks constituted 23 percent of the population; Hispanics 29 percent. Only 10 percent of the persons stopped were white; whites are 33 percent of the population” (Greenawalt, 2014, p. 183). Police explain the absence of correlation between a number of stops and nationalities by the fact that police law enforcement bodies spend most of their time in the areas of special danger in terms of crime (Greenawalt, 2014). Meares supports the point of view of those scholars, who consider SQF to be ineffective for severe or violent crime reduction. She states that “the Office of the Attorney General concluded that SQF technique was not directly related to serious crime reduction – “just 6% of stops during the observation period from 2009 to 2012 resulted in an arrest” (Meares, 2014, p. 344). At the same time, the author indicates that “Between 2004 and 2012, there were just over 2 million stops of African Americans, which resulted in 16,000 seizures” (Meares, 2014, p. 344). It is difficult to give exact values of crime reduction conditioned by SQF, as scholars have always been arguing, whether, active usage of SQF conditioned a significant crime reduction in the 1990s and whether the method is still valuable for the police. In my opinion, even a small decrease of crime level is worth applying any method in reasonable limits that contributes to the improvement of the situation.
Defining that SQF, leading to minimal crime reduction, is valuable for the police,
it is important to investigate what police scholars think about the racial problem that this method provokes. There exists an opinion that, in order to avoid racial discrimination issues, it is easier to refuse the application of this method. Greenawalt’s essay describes an original perspective for the SQF ethical component. The author researched the history of racial discrimination and stated that his paper investigates one main issue: “if members of minority groups are disproportionately involved in crimes of violence and carrying concealed weapons on the street, is it defensible, and constitutionally acceptable, for a police officer to take account of a person’s race in deciding whether to make a “stop” [<…]> (Greenawalt, 2014, p. 183). Greenawalt came to a conclusion that racial factor can serve as an impulse for police to stop a minority representative. However, he does not consider this factor to be a revelation of racial discrimination, as applying SQF technique, a policeman takes possible objective consequences into consideration and not the nationality of an individual. Greenawalt states that it is impossible to exclude an individual motive of a policeman or a judge, in consequence related to the nationality of a suspect. However, in case of SQF, these personal views should not be considered as reasonable suspicion. The author’s approach to SQF seems reasonable to me, as the elevated level of crime in the areas, inhabited by minority populations conditions more SQFs taking place there, as it was mentioned above.
The last, but not the least important aspect of SQF, is the way this method affects the interaction of police and public. As modern tendencies in police-public relationship promote a point of view that it should be trustful and cooperative, police should not look aggressive in eyes of people, especially youths (Meares, 2014). Meares states that besides following the main aim of crime reduction, “policing also can and should play a role in the production of positive feelings of self-identity that help to “construct and sustain our ‘we-feeling’—our very felt sense of common publicness” (Meares, 2014, p. 349). Therefore, I support the position of an author and think that in case of applying SQF method, policemen should forget about their non-professional prejudices and be governed by their reasonable suspicion.
SQF can serve as a reliable criminal justice component and perform a number of diverse functions. I base my opinion on the statistical data, related to crime reduction in consequence and my own vision on the police communication with the public. In case of police being polite when addressing people on the street, demonstrating them that they apply to the discussed measure with the only purpose to protect and prevent them, then police-public relationship will have a chance to improve. If New York police and citizens trusted each other more and the image of police legitimacy was firm, then, in case of police applying to SQF, people would not consider it as a sign of disrespect. Therefore, some work should be done on making both police and public realize how tactful they should be when working and cooperate correspondingly.
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It is worth stating that SQF should be considered as an important element of New York police activities. Insignificant crime reduction and practicing the method mostly on national minorities cause a heated discussion about ethical aspects of SQF, related to national minorities. In my opinion, SQF should not be forgotten as a method of policing, as it helps police to reach their main goal of crime reduction. However, policemen should have SQF psychological and professional trainings, in order to comprehend what a reasonable suspicion is and to know how to explain each stopping and searching of an individual of any nationality.