WE HAVE RECENTLY heard the term "Stop and Frisk" used
in reference to Law Enforcement in New York City as if it were an exclusive program for that municipality. The references were made as the term became a major discussion point concerning the most recent civil disturbances in Charlotte, N.C.; as well as the previous incidents in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, Md. and Staten Island, N.Y.
IN REALITY, THE term is one that has been around in usage in both judicial and law enforcement circles for well over 50 years now. The term is a reference to the authority of the state and, in particular to the authority and powers of its police; primarily, front and center in these powers is that of arrest.
WHEN WE HEAR of "arrest," our thoughts automatically picture someone being taken into physical custody, being charged with some violation of state statutes or local ordinance, being printed and photographed and having to post bail. Most of this that we've just described is actually the booking process. The "arrest" part is really limited to the original stop made by the cops on individual(s). Much in the same way that arrest is used in the medical parlance as "full cardiac arrest"when one's ticker has stopped, so arrest in the area of police work means those instances where a field stop is executed.
IT IS IN the gray area of police work that "Stop and Frisk" owes its origin. The principle provides a sort of rule to follow for the cop on the beat as an investigative tool. As defined briefly, this police power is the application of good judgement when the officers are confronted with what the courts have described as "suspicious conduct" by one or more persons. For example, a group of youths emerging from an alley at 2:00 a.m. This would certainly require a look-see and an investigation. Questions in need of answering would include: Are they under aged (curfew violation), do they have any business there, have they been engaged in any other illicit activity?
UNDER THIS DOCTRINE, officers conducting such a field interrogation would do a preliminary search (pat down, 'frisk') of the individuals in question to insure that they possess no dangerous weapons. It is a matter of safety for the police. Inasmuch as there has been no criminal conduct one might question if the pat down and weapons search was legal.
WELL, OVER THE years, all courts (until some recent litigation in NYC) have consistently upheld the legality of the "stop and frisk" tenet of law enforcement. One federal judge went so far as to declare the this rule of conduct is, if not so stated, is implied by the very unpredictable situations that are typical of police work.
THIS SORT OF patrol activity is not only preferred by the police departments; but is encouraged, even required to do our job properly. The various administrations of the CPD all have encouraged vigorous application of the Stop and Frisk as a fundamental activity of patrol. But rallying the "troops" to enthusiastically embrace the activity has often been less than highly successful, save for one occasion in our memory.
THE YEAR WAS 1972, and it was in October. That was some eight or nine years before Chicago cops had a labor contract and prior to the Fraternal Order of Police being chosen as the bargaining agent (union). The militant "Young Turks" on the job were a part of the Confederation of Police (or C.O.P. for short). The membership of C.O.P. voted to have a job action prior to the city budget's being finalized. What they chose was a "ticket blitz" which consisted of writing every traffic ticket to as many people as possible. This was essentially causing many, many more street stops than was the norm, by far. After a few days, Deputy Superintendent James Rochford admonished the men in the press as if they were doing something wrong.
BUT THE DARK secret that the city administration never acknowledged was that there were some really positive results from this "take no prisoners" style of traffic enforcement. What we, the public were never told was that this stepped up enforcement led to a significantly lower accident rate in Chicago. Not only that, but there was a sudden spike in the number of stolen auto arrests, illegal guns, narcotics and warrant arrests; all due to all of those traffic stops. The irony of this being that the police organization did so well what all of the big bosses failed to do.
ONCE AGAIN WE remind all that the courts have upheld the doctrine of "stop and frisk" as being legally permissible. Hell, man, it should not be just allowed; but rather compulsory! (Just think of all of those garage burglaries and auto break-ins that we experience on the Southwest Side that could be prevented!)
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John T. “Red” Ryan is a retired Chicago police officer and Garfield Ridge resident.