How Legal is the ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ Policy By Police Officers Against Latinos?

By Luke Worli posted 07-07-2021 12:53 AM


The stop-and-frisk policy followed by police officers can function as a form of racial profiling. They may investigate individuals they believe are prone to commit crime. When they do so, it violates human rights and the Fourth Amendment. It is well known that “stop-and-frisk” policies disproportionally target minority communities. 

What is stop-and-frisk?

Stop-and-frisk is an investigatory stop that takes place when police officers observe a minor crime and use the occasion to question and search a subject of interest about the suspected criminal activity. 

The legal basis for stop-and-frisk is in the Supreme Court case of Terry vs Ohio in 1968. It authorizes officers to pat down suspects when they are “reasonably suspicious’ criminal activity has occurred. The practice has been contentious since it was first approved by the Supreme Court. 

Latinos who believe they have experienced stop-and-frisk where the police officers had no probable cause will need the help of experienced attorneys to prove this. Police brutality lawyers from various states are listed on and have been involved in many cases like this and know exactly how to defend their clients. 

The constitutionality of stop-and-frisk policies

The national protests that followed with the death of George Floyd resonated with the Latino community. Latinos supported the protests as they believed more police accountability would help them too. 

Over the past 45 or so years, the powers of the police to stop-and-frisk have grown tremendously. This encompasses even trivial suspected criminal activity. In some cases, it’s done under circumstances where the observed conduct may be fully consistent with innocence. 

In New York City, many Latinos found themselves subjected to stop-and-frisk procedures over the years, even when they were entirely innocent. The activities were essentially sanctioned as a way to stop crime because certain people are “prone” to commit a crime. It was also in New York City that stop-and-frisk practices have generated a strong debate on their wisdom and legality. This debate came to a head in Floyd v. City of New York

Just about every marginalized community is unified against the practice of stop-and-frisk, which is often justified on subjective and vague grounds. 

The broad grounds for stop-and-frisk

Police departments seem to have extremely wide discretion about where to deploy officers and whom to stop. Considering how many people are subjected to such stops, it is not surprising that stop-and-frisk is such a controversial issue, especially when relating it to the wider area of effective, fair policing. 

Stop-and-frisk practices even extend to attempts to enforce immigration laws. Through agreements with the federal government, law enforcement in some cities and counties helps to arrest and detain people for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Latinos are often criminalized under the guise of enforcing immigration.

Lack of empirical data

The lack of empirical data (a direct result of the failure of most police departments to maintain stop-and-frisk data) has compromised the constitutional assessment of stop-and-frisk practices. There is a lack of data from many police departments regarding racial disparities in stops or even the actual number of stops-and-frisks. 

As a result, the law, police procedures, and community responses to the practice are often based on speculation and conjecture. The courts do not have access to all the relevant information as cases are prosecuted one-by-one. 

Latinos press for police reform

One prominent Latino pressing for police reform is Julián Castro, a former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. Evidently, many police departments register Latino victims as unknown so the amount of Latino victims of police violence is often underestimated.

Stops without any legal justification are unconstitutional and have a counterproductive effect because they reduce the trust that’s necessary for community policing. When such violations are racially disproportionate, the effect goes even deeper.