The New York Civil Liberties Union is offering a free “Stop and Frisk Watch App” for both iPhone and Android users in order to hold police agencies accountable for potentially unlawful stops and searches.
Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers believe this is an excellent aid in communities where individuals may feel weak in the face of police harassment. The app alerts users to wear a police stop may be happening, allows video recording of the incident and once recording is complete, prompts users to take a detailed survey about what just occurred. There is even an entire “know your rights” section that informs people about what to do when confronted by police and also details your right to film a public police encounter.
Primarily, though, this is going to be a service to be used by bystanders – not the person who is being stopped – although such recordings could have great value in the criminal case if the person is later arrested.
The biggest reason the issue is making news in New York is because of a common practice by officers there to “stop and frisk” those passing near certain buildings in the Bronx. This prompted a number of residents to sue the agency back in March of last year, saying that the “stop and frisk” policy, which targeted “trespassers” was in fact unlawful. The program was called the Trespass Affidavit Program, or TAP. A vast majority of TAP cases were so weak on evidence, they were dropped by prosecutors before they ever got to court. But that didn’t stop officers from simply stopping whoever may have been passing (usually, a poor minority) and harassing them.
Last month, those residents won their case, with a U.S. District Court judge issuing an injunction against the TAP program, finding that police officials showed a “deliberate indifference” to the constitutional rights of those who were being stopped.
But New York, of course, isn’t the only agency to routinely employ questionable stop-and-search tactics.
While we would certainly encourage use of this app for bystanders, as well as for a general understanding of your rights, it’s important for those who may encounter direct police attention to know how to assert their rights in the midst of police encounters.
In understanding what you need to do, you also need to understand the type of encounter you are having. There are two basic types: Consensual and investigatory. The latter is when the officer has reasonable suspicion that you may have been involved in criminal activity, no matter how minor. In these cases you are obliged to stay and cooperate (though you do not have to answer potentially incriminating questions).
A consensual encounter, though, is one in which both parties voluntarily participate. Of course, a strong argument could be made that police have the ability to compel consent in any encounter, given that they are armed with guns and handcuffs and the ability to arrest you.
The best tactic in these situations is to be explicit in your desire not to participate. That is, you don’t want to answer any questions and you don’t consent to having your property searched. Be aware that refusal sometimes inherently look suspicious to an officer, but you need to remain firm in your right not to get involved. Sometimes, you may have to say no several times.
Ideally, if the officer has no reasonable suspicion, he will simply give up and go another direction. If that doesn’t happen, at least there will be ample evidence that you were not a willing participant, and that could mean that any evidence uncovered subsequently may be suppressed in court.
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.