What is common policy regarding stop and frisk procedures? How are they related to delinquency prevention and social learning theory?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Stop and frisk is a process carried out in New York City in which the New York City Police Department stops, questions, and sometimes searches civilians who are suspected of carrying weapons or other illegal objects (in the rest of the country, it is referred to as Terry stops, after the Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio). Stop and frisk arose out of the Terry decision in 1968, as this decision allowed police to stop people with a "reasonable suspicion" and not necessarily "probable cause." In other words, the police had to meet a lower barrier for stopping someone and searching them. In stop-and-frisk procedures, a person is not arrested (which means held for questioning at a police station and booked) but is instead questioned briefly. Sometimes, the police will pat down the person's outer layer of clothing, but if no evidence of a weapon is found, the person will be released.

An analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union (see the link below) found that since 2002, 5 million people had been subjected to stop-and-frisk procedures in New York City. Black people and Latinos were overwhelmingly the targets of these procedures. Since 2003, 54% of the targets were black, while 31% were Latino. Only 12% were white. Of the people who were stopped since 2002, 82% were found to be innocent. It could be argued, therefore, that stop and frisk has done little to prevent delinquency. 

Social learning theory states that people learn new behaviors through observing others. Social learning theory is relevant to the concept of stop and frisk because it might be surmised that people who watch others being stopped and frisked might be deterred from carrying out illegal activities. Many supporters of the policy, including the New York City Police Department, argue that stop and frisk is a crime deterrent and is responsible for reducing crime in the city to historic lows. However, opponents believe the policy discriminates against racial minorities and is not a deterrent to crime.