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The NYPD has gained notoriety over the past decade due to its use of the policing tactic known as SQF or Stop, Question, and Frisk (more commonly known as stop and frisk). The stop and frisk tactic allows police officers to stop anyone on the street or in public who they have a reasonable suspicion might have committed -- or is about to commit -- a crime. While the NYPD has drastically scaled back its use of the tactic, the statistics are staggering and show that it yields a net negative outcome when community perceptions are factored in.
While there are strong proponents on either side of the debate, the numbers seem to show that it is used disproportionately against minorities, wastes resources, and is ineffective (unless used with stops based on "probably cause indicators").
Is Stop and Frisk Legal?
The legality of stop and frisk has been aggressively challenged in New York, and while the general policy was not found to be unconstitutional as written, the implementation and practice was done in a way that did violate the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Since the seminal case of Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, the NYPD has decreased the use of SQF from well over half a million SQF stops per year, to just over 20,000 in 2015. The statistics, across the board, show that African American and Hispanic individuals were stopped at an alarmingly high rate compared to white individuals, and that SQF tactics are largely ineffective.
While the practice is still legal "in New York and everywhere else," the question of whether an officer has reasonable suspicion to stop a passerby has become much more heavily scrutinized. Originally, reasonable suspicion was held to be a much much lower standard than probable cause, which is what an officer ordinarily would need to have to search someone they suspect of criminal wrongdoing without first obtaining a search warrant.
What to Do If You're the Subject of a SQF Stop
While this may not be what you want to hear, the best thing you can do is be polite and allow them to pat you down. So long as you do not provide evasive answers, get angry with the officer, or resist their search, you should be free to go afterwards (assuming you are not carrying a weapon, illegal drugs, or evidence of a crime).
If you are arrested, use your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and consult an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.