A Minneapolis cop frisks a teenager in the Philips neighborhood in 1998. MIKE ZERBY/Star Tribune
A review of recent stop-and-frisk encounters between Minneapolis police and citizens found that officers rarely gave reasons for stopping and searching people without arresting them, according to a new report by the Police Conduct Oversight Commission.
The study, whose findings will be presented at the PCOC’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, comes amid growing criticism of the practice, in which officers stop people they reasonably believe are committing or about to commit a crime. Critics say the practice disproportionately targets ethnic minorities.
The PCOC, which investigates misconduct complaints against police, found that officers “did not document any information about the stop other than what was automatically generated or required to close the call” in 26 percent of stop-and-frisk encounters (otherwise known as Terry stops), and that even those stops and searches where they provided some details “often what was documented was not the reason for the stop or a description of the outcome.”
It further concluded:
“ ...many of the officer initiated stops located in this study involving loitering did not document information using the criteria established on the MPD website, city ordinance, or Emergency Communications order. While this does not indicate that officers did not have reasonable suspicion (or probable cause) to justify their actions, the lack of documentation is notable.”
The report examined 385 of the 28,304 suspicious person stops from last year, where the stop wasn’t initiated by a 911 call and didn’t end in arrest.
The recommendations outlined in its 30 pages included “resolving any existing barriers” to documenting search-and-frisk encounters and clarifying the department’s policy on such stops. Teresa Nelson, an attorney for the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she agreed with the report's recommendations urging police to report more data from stop-and-frisk encounters.
"We very quickly discovered that they don't systematically collect it, so I think this report kind of confirms that," Nelson said last week. "We would want more systematic reporting race and analysis."
As an example, she pointed to several police departments across the country, including Newark, which have started collecting demographic data – age, gender, race, sexual orientation and English proficiency – from suspicious persons stops.
"It's important to know what is happening in the department," she said. "For example, this minimal study led to a conclusion that we need to reinforce the training and make it more clear when it’s OK to stop people."
The report, in full: