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The intricacies of STOP AND FRISK
Joe Gillam
Joe Gillam is retired military and a retired HPD officer. - photo by File photo


In the past week or so the term STOP AND FRISK has been has been tossed around on just about all talk news shows and been made to believe that it ranks right down there with the bubonic plague. 

Not necessarily the fact; STOP AND FRISK is a legal and Supreme Court confirmed police tool that has been around for many, many years. I started policing back in 1964 and we were taught how to legally use this tool. It was challenged in the case of a Cleveland, Ohio man stopped and frisked then arrested for a concealed weapon. The case wormed its way through the courts until it was affirmed by The US Supreme Court via Terry v. Ohio, 292 U.S. 1 (1968). 

In short Mr. Terry was suspected to be “casing “ a store for a holdup by Cleveland Officer McFadden. McFadden observed him for a period of time until he was sure that criminal activity was afoot. He approached, detained and patted down Mr. Terry for his officer safety. 

Feeling what he knew as a gun he withdrew the weapon for his safety, arrested Mr. Terry, and so be the history of the affirmation of STOP AND FRISK. 

Police have an inherent duty to be on the lookout for suspicious activity and take action when it is observed. 

a. Step One — The Stop — Based on suspected criminal activity. — The threshold is that there be a set of facts and circumstances present that would lead a reasonable police officer to suspect criminal activity. This may be something that would not immediately be apparent to the average citizen. Weight is placed on the training, knowledge and experience specific to a police officer. This is less than probable cause that would be sufficient for an arrest or warrant application. It’s this articulatable reasonable belief that allows the officer to temporarily detain the individual to further investigate to develop probable cause for arrest or obtain information to delete his suspicion and allow the individual on his way. 

b. Step Two — The Frisk — The suspect is detained at this point and may or may not be frisked. If the officer has no reason to belief that the individual might be armed he proceeds directly to the questioning of the suspicious activity. If the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the individual might be armed and present danger then he is allowed to pat down the suspect’s outer garments for the feel of any weapons. If so felt, then the weapons are sizable and can be introduced as evidence. 

If there is an up-tick in crime then police patrols may be tasked to be more so on the lookout for suspicious activity and thus take a more proactive action. Of course this tool may be abused without proper training, management and supervision. 


Joe Gillam, 912 977 6755 

US Army Military Police - 1964-1984 

Hinesville Police Officer - 1986 2006 

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