Since 2005, between 25-30% of all CCRB complaints have involved allegations of improper stop, question, frisk, and/or search. When we receive a complaint about these types of street encounters, it is investigated as an abuse of authority. The investigation will focus on the details of the encounter, in accordance with state law, police department rules and the U.S. Constitution.
Police Authority and Street Encounters
- Request for Information: The least intrusive encounter is a simple request for information. This is a general, non-threatening encounter in which you are approached for a reason the officer can articulate. You may then asked briefly about your identity, destination, or reason for being in an area. A CCRB investigation about an encounter such as this will focus on whether there was some objective, credible reason for the officer’s request, not necessarily indicative of criminality.
- Common-Law Inquiry: The second level of intrusion is called a common-law inquiry. Here, an officer’s questions become extended and accusatory and focus on possible criminality. The CCRB investigation will focus on whether the officer had a founded suspicion that criminal activity was happening.
- Stop: The third type of encounter is more intrusive and is called a stop, where the officer is temporarily detaining you, even using reasonable force to do so. The officer must have a reasonable suspicion that you are committing, have committed, or are about to commit a crime. During a stop you are not under arrest, but you are not free to leave. When an officer stops your car, the officer must have reasonable suspicion that someone in the car committed a crime, or probable cause to believe the driver committed a traffic violation. A CCRB investigation will focus on whether the officer had reasonable suspicion, based on observable conduct, and/or information.
- Frisk: During a stop, if an officer reasonably believes you have a weapon, he or she is permitted to pat down (frisk) your outer clothing. Here, the CCRB will investigate a complaint about a frisk by focusing on whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to believe that you were armed with a weapon. If an officer feels an object and reasonably believes that it could be a weapon, the officer is allowed to reach inside your clothing and grasp the object to determine whether it is or is not a weapon.
- Search: The next level of intrusion is a search. Any of the following will be considered a search: an officer putting his hands into your pockets or inside your clothing; an officer entering or looking inside your car or any closed compartments, such as a trunk, glove compartment, or center console; an officer looking inside your bag or any other container; an officer entering your home; an officer examining the data contained in your cell phone, computer, or other data storage device.
To investigate a complaint of improper search, the CCRB will focus on the following:
- Whether the officer had probable cause to believe that you committed a crime;
- Whether the officer had probable cause to believe your car contained weapons or contraband;
- Whether the officer had a search warrant or arrest warrant authorizing the search; or
- Whether exigent circumstances existed which justify the officer’s actions
Download the brochure “What to Do if a Police Officer Stops You”
English (in PDF)
Spanish (in PDF)