For many years, the New York City Police Department ("NYPD") has engaged in a practice known as "Stop and Frisk." This policy allows officers, based on reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, to engage in investigatory stops and to conduct a pat down of the outer clothing of the individual if there is reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed.

While there is an abundance of analysis regarding the detrimental impact of the stop-and-frisk policy, particularly the allegations of racial discrimination, an under examined facet of this policy and its implementation is the inherently violent nature of these encounters. The "frisk," or pat down, necessarily connotes a physical touching, but personal accounts of stop-and-frisk encounters reveal a disturbing pattern of violence towards those stopped.

Part I of this Essay explains the controversial stop-and-frisk policy as it has been implemented in New York City and explores arguments for and against the use of such tactics to prevent and investigate crime. Part II explains the inherent violence the NYPD has employed in numerous stop-and-frisk encounters. Part III argues that the institutional nature of practices such as stop and frisk and other aggressive police strategies create a culture that cultivates misconduct within police departments, imposes unfair burdens on residents of these communities, and undermines the legitimacy of law enforcement. The violence visited upon those who have been subject to these practices will have a lasting impact that serves only to perpetuate the violence in the affected communities. In conclusion, Part IV offers solutions to counteract institutional police misconduct associated with stop and frisk and other aggressive police tactics. Any successful reform must be organizational in nature and must include various stakeholders to ensure sustainable and politically legitimate reforms.

This abstract has been adapted from the author's introduction.

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49 Wake Forest Law Review 849-871 (2014)


Written for the colloquium Law as Violence: An Interdisciplinary Conversation (2014) at Wake Forest University School of Law.