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'Stop and frisk': 7 questions about New York's controversial policing tactic

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A protest against the New York Police Department's 'stop and frisk' program moves down Fifth Avenue in New York in June 2012.

Seth Wenig/AP/File

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2. Is it legal?

It is now. Under the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, law enforcement personnel needed “probable cause” to stop and search someone. That is, they need good reason to believe a person has committed or is about to commit a crime.

But a 1968 US Supreme Court decision, Terry v. Ohio, lowered that benchmark by allowing law enforcement to stop and search people in a public place if the officer “reasonably suspects” that someone is about to commit a crime. Reasonable suspicion alone is not grounds for arrest, as probable cause is, but incriminating evidence found during a stop and frisk may be grounds for arrest.

The problem is that “reasonable suspicion” is more vague than “probable cause,” leading some opponents to argue that law enforcement officers use a person's race to determine reasonable suspicion, and therefore, perform stop and frisks. 

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