Stop-and-frisk policy, when used by police officers, involves stopping and conducting a pat-down search of civilians suspected of committing a crime. SPTDC’s petition argues that these searches lead to racially targeted harassment and do not decrease the risk of crime.
The practice originates from a 1968 Supreme Court decision, Terry v. Ohio, that held police officers may legally stop civilians on the street as long as the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that the suspect has committed a crime. However, opponents of stop-and-frisk searches argue that the low standard required to conduct a search encourages racial profiling of Black individuals.
The petition demands that D.C. ban the use of stop-and-frisk by all police departments under their authority and mandate the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) collect and report data related to all searches. Additionally, it asks that police departments require affirmative consent before searches and that officers who demonstrate records of excessive force or racial profiling be fired.
Available data across multiple city police departments that utilize stop-and-frisk searches, including New York City, Chicago, and Baltimore, indicate clear racial bias, according to the petition. It also notes that, while only a limited amount of data is available for D.C., the available information suggests a similar bias. “Of the limited partial data they [the MDP] have released 83% of all Stops-and-Frisks were of Black residents, who make up less than 48% of D.C.’s total population,” the petition reads.
SPTDC also argues that stop-and-frisk does not improve safety. The petition cites a report by the Attorney General of New York that says only a small percentage of searches led to convictions.
“Of 2.4 million stops, only .3% resulted in a jail sentence longer than thirty days. Only .1% led to a conviction for a violent crime,” the petition says.
Valerie Wexler, a spokesperson for SPTDC, said many D.C. residents aren’t aware their police departments employ stop-and-frisk. “The biggest issue we have is that people don’t even know that stop-and-frisk happens in D.C.,” she said. “A month ago, this campaign was very much focused on awareness and education.”
Wexler also reported they received a large spike in public attention to the petition and SPTDC’s other campaigns following nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that called for measures to eliminate police violence. She said that this attention has helped raise awareness of stop-and-frisk and has given SPTDC more ability to push for their demands.
“It’s given us a lot of momentum,” she said. “The knowledge that you have the power of 20,000 people backing the policies that you want gives you the power to demand more than we had the ability to do before.”