CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Trial Weighs Importance of Arrests in Police Stops"

From the New York Times:

The so-called hit rate — often measured as a percentage of stops that lead to an arrest or summons — has long been at the center of the fraught public debate over the stop-and-frisk tactic. Critics cite it as evidence that the police stop people without legal ground in minority neighborhoods and use the stops as an opportunity to search for contraband. The department, however, interprets declines in the hit rate as evidence that the tactic works: as more stops deter criminals from carrying guns, there are fewer guns on the street, leading to fewer arrests.

But now Judge Scheindlin, who is deciding the case in Federal District Court in Manhattan instead of a jury, must determine whether the rate has any constitutional significance. Does a low rate suggest that the police have watered down the meaning of reasonable suspicion — the legal standard officers must meet before stopping someone? Or does it reveal nothing more than the challenging nature of police work?

In deciding what constitutional importance to attach to the rates, Judge Scheindlin may be forced to rely more on instinct than legal precedent, of which there is little.

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