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Letter: Stop and Frisk (New York Times)

To the Editor:

Re “Rude or Polite, City’s Officers Leave Raw Feelings in Stops” (front page, June 27):

The term “stop and frisk” rolls off the tongue with such ease that we often forget the fact that a stop does not justify a frisk.

To stop a person lawfully, a police officer must have reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit an unlawful act. Then, even if a stop is appropriate, officers can conduct a frisk only in the rare circumstance when they reasonably suspect that a person has a weapon that might endanger officer safety.

Despite this limitation, nearly 56 percent of those stopped by the New York Police Department in 2011 were frisked. Those frisks produced a weapon less than 2 percent of the time. These statistics clearly show that the NYPD routinely frisks people without legal justification. How else to explain the huge number of innocent and unarmed people frisked?

Used lawfully, street stops are an acceptable law enforcement tool. But the NYPD’s rampant abuse of the tactic, courteous or not, is an unconstitutional violation of civil rights that sows mistrust between the police and the public they serve.

Donna Lieberman
Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union

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