Give an example of a specific situation where accountability for their actions may affect a police officer's decision making in enforcing the law.
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One example of when police accountability for their actions might end up affecting the decisions they make is in the sort of “stop and frisk” case that has been making headlines in New York City recently.
Under the doctrine laid out by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, the police may stop a person and conduct a very limited search to see if they have weapons on their person. The police in such cases do not need to have the sort of probable cause that would be needed to make an arrest or to do a full search. However, they also cannot do a “Terry stop” based solely on a hunch. They have to be able to articulate a reason for stopping the person.
Accountability comes into play here because there were pressures to do such stops and to refrain from doing them. Police leaders typically want Terry stops done because they believe those stops help to reduce crime. By contrast, civil libertarians feel that Terry stops are done too often and that they are typically used to target members of racial minorities. An officer, then, would have to think hard about what to do in a potential Terry stop situation. Do you stop the person and satisfy your bosses? Do you refrain from stopping them so you are not accused of police misconduct? It is hard for an officer to know what to do.
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