Reasonable Suspicion: Lessons Learned Recommendations from Civil Rights Litigation

Conduct a “frisk for weapons” or “pat down” during a search of an individual. 

  • Except when there are specific and articulable facts that indicate that a person is armed with a dangerous and deadly weapon

Avoid the following when determining whether to initiate a search and/or seizure: 

  • Relying on information known to be false or incorrect
  • Using a subject’s demographic characteristics to determine probable cause to conduct a search (race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, etc.)

Baltimore, MD           Cleveland, OH          Los Angeles County, CA          Newark, NJ          Yonkers, NY          

Warrantless searches of persons and vehicles should not be conducted unless: 

  • Officers have consent to search
  • Officers have probable cause based on specific and articulable facts
  • The search is incident to a lawful arrest
  • The search meets an exception to the warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment

Alamance County, NC           Cleveland, OH          Los Angeles County, CA          Newark, NJ          Yonkers, NY          

Document reasonable suspicion clearly

  • Be specific and articulable using individualized, descriptive language 

Baltimore, MD            Cleveland, OH        East Haven, CT         Ferguson, MO          Los Angeles County, CA        New Jersey        New Orleans, LA        Newark, NJ             Puerto Rico               Seattle, WA              Yonkers, NY

Base requests to conduct a warrantless search on reasonable suspicion that a search would reveal evidence of a crime

Alamance County, NC           Cleveland, OH          Los Angeles County, CA          Newark, NJ          Yonkers, NY           

Do not search a motor vehicle unless there is reasonable and articulable suspicion that the search will reveal evidence of a crime or the officer has legal authority for the search, independent of consent

  • Document in writing the basis for the suspicion or other legal authority

Baltimore, MD          Cleveland, OH         Los Angeles County, CA        Newark, NJ         Yonkers, NY

The information provided above has come directly from the consent decree language, which can be accessed by clicking on each corresponding city’s consent decree. This information is intended to guide departments on decisions and actions to improve their Constitutional policing practices. Additional resources and information may be needed to implement these recommendations successfully. For assistance in implementing recommendations, contact the Knowledge Lab team.