Authorities apply state law policies
A federal judge’s ruling that New York City Police Department’s “stop and frisk” policy violates the constitutional rights of minorities will have little impact on how the Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office handle people considered suspicious, authorities said.
“We do it periodically. It happens but not in an excessive amount,” Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman Cpl. L’Jean McKneely said of practice of stopping a suspicious person and frisking them. McKneely said police department policy is to strictly adhere to the state law that governs how law enforcement officers can practice “stop and frisk” tactics.
Louisiana law allows a law enforcement officer to stop a person in a public place if the officer reasonably suspects the person is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime. The officer can ask the person’s name, address, and get an explanation of the person’s actions. The law also says that if a police officer reasonably suspects that he is in danger or if he suspects the person has a weapon, the officer may frisk the outer clothing of the person stopped. The New York law is almost identical.
Casey Rayborn Hicks, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said her agency also adheres to the state law.
“Whether an officer may stop a person and frisk and or search him for weapons depends on whether the totality of the circumstances gives rise to a reasonable suspicion that the person has, is or is about to commit a crime,” Hicks said.
When asked to comment about their personal feelings on the ruling, Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie and East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux both deferred to their spokespeople for general comments.
The federal judge’s ruling comes in a class action lawsuit filed in 2008 against the New York City Police Department. The lawsuit claims police were stopping black and Latino residents more than whites.
The New York judge found that the police department resorted to a “policy of indirect racial profiling” and the stops demonstrated a disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. The judge also found the police department’s practice as a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
The judge’s decision in New York has no legal effect on the state law in Louisiana, Attorney General’s Office Spokeswoman Laura Gerdes said.
“It would be impractical for our office to speculate on how a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that does not exist might affect law enforcement procedures in Louisiana,” Gerdes said when asked how the decision might affect Louisiana agencies if the U.S. Supreme Court were to uphold the lower court’s ruling in the future.
Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tony Bacala said his office employs the “stop and frisk” practice in strict accordance with the state law.
“If a deputy sees someone and reasonably suspects they committed a crime or is about to commit a crime, I would hope that deputy would stop that person to find out what’s going on. And I would hope the general public would want us to do that with someone who may be up to criminal no good,” Bacala said.
Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard said his office also uses the state law as his department’s policy on when to practice “stop and frisk.”
“We’re not just stopping people to stop them,” Ard said.
Marjorie R. Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said the ruling, as a matter of law, will have no effect on Louisiana law enforcement agencies. However, she said some law enforcement agencies may act in a proactive manner and curb any unconstitutional stop and frisk practices going forward.
“It’s never been tested in court here,” Esman said.
Albert Samuels, a political science professor at Southern University, said it’s difficult to see how the federal ruling will affect Louisiana law enforcement agencies because a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Terry V. Ohio, held that stopping and frisking is constitutional under certain conditions.
The “reasonably suspects” language in both Louisiana’s and New York’s law is consistent with the Terry V. Ohio decision.
When asked if he thinks unconstitutional stop and frisk tactics are used in Baton Rouge, Samuels said, “I won’t say that it never happens.”
McKneely said Baton Rouge Police officers are not stopping and frisking people on a daily basis but it does happen and it aids officers in feeling safe.
“We don’t pat down everyone we stop and question. If it feels like it could be a safety issue, we may pat them down on the outside. We’re not going into anybody’s pockets,” McKneely said.
Describing a common example, McKneely said if there is a report of a burglary in a neighborhood and a police officer is dispatched, the officer might stop someone in that neighborhood if the officer feels like the person is suspicious.
“If the report was the suspect was on a bicycle and we drive up and see someone who fits the description on a bicycle, we could question them,” McKneely said.
McKneely said people not involved in a crime are not going to pay a lot of attention to a police car in the area while a criminal suspect is going to closely watch a police car driving near them.
“It happens so many times. I press on my car breaks and the person looking at me runs away,” McKneely said.