The purpose of this policy is to assist officers in determining when field interviews and pat-down searches are warranted and the manner in which they must be conducted.
The field interview is an important point of contact for officers in preventing and investigating criminal activity. But even when conducted with respect for involved citizens and in strict conformance with the law, it can be perceived by some as a means of police harassment or intimidation conducted in a discriminatory manner against groups or individuals. In order to maintain the effectiveness and legitimacy of this practice and to protect the safety of officers in approaching suspicious individuals, law enforcement officers shall conduct field interviews and perform pat-down searches in conformance with procedures set forth in this policy.
FIELD INTERVIEW: The brief detainment of an individual, whether on foot or in a vehicle, based on reasonable suspicion for the purposes of determining the individual’s identity and resolving the officer’s suspicions.
PROCEDURES – FIELD INTERVIEWS
A. Justification for Conducting a Field Interview
Law enforcement officers may stop individuals for the purpose of conducting a field interview only where reasonable suspicion is present. Reasonable suspicion must be more than a hunch or feeling, but need not meet the test for probable cause sufficient to make an arrest. In justifying the stop, the officer must be able to point to specific facts which, when taken together with rational inferences, reasonably warrant the stop. Such facts include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The appearance or demeanor of an individual suggests that he is part of a criminal enterprise or is engaged in a criminal act;
- The actions of the suspect suggest that he is engaged in a criminal activity;
- The hour of day or night is inappropriate for the suspect’s presence in the area;
- The suspect’s presence in a neighborhood or location is inappropriate;
- The suspect is carrying a suspicious object;
- The suspect’s clothing bulges in a manner that suggests he is carrying a weapon;
- The suspect is located in proximate time and place to the alleged crime; or
- The officer has knowledge of the suspect’s prior criminal record or involvement in criminal activity.
Initiating a Field Interview
Based on the observance of suspicious circumstances or upon information from an investigation, an officer may initiate the stop of a suspect if he has articulable, reasonable suspicion to do so. The following guidelines shall be followed when making an authorized stop to conduct a field interview.
- When approaching the suspect, the officer shall clearly identify himself as a law enforcement officer, if not in uniform, by announcing his identity and displaying Agency identification.
- Officers shall be courteous at all times during the contact but maintain caution and vigilance for furtive movements to retrieve weapons, conceal or discard contraband, or other suspicious actions.
- Before approaching more than one suspect, individual officers should determine whether the circumstances warrant a request for backup assistance and whether the contact can and should be delayed until such assistance arrives.
- Officers shall confine their questions to those concerning the suspect’s identity, place of residence and other inquiries necessary to resolve the officer’s suspicions. However, in no instance shall an officer detain a suspect longer than is reasonably necessary to make these limited inquiries.
- Officers are not required to give suspects Miranda warnings in order to conduct field interviews unless and until additional information is available and sufficient to establish probable cause for arrest.
- Suspects are not required, nor can they be compelled, to answer any questions posed during field interviews. Failure to respond to an officer’s inquiries is not, in and of itself, sufficient grounds to make an arrest although it may provide sufficient justification for additional observation and investigation.
If after conducting a field interview there is no basis for making an arrest, the officer should record the facts of the interview and forward the documentation to the appropriate reporting authority as prescribed by Agency procedure.
It is essential during field interviews that officers’ conduct the interview in such a manner so as not to elevate the encounter to an arrest when no probable cause exists for an arrest. Officers must also keep in mind that the broad view of the courts does not necessarily require that the words, “You are under arrest” be spoken in order for an arrest to take place. Therefore the officer should:
- Avoid intimidating behavior
- Officers should exercise reasonable courtesy and avoid intimidating or threatening behavior
- Minimize physical contact
- Excessive physical contact can cause the courts to treat the encounter as an arrest
- Avoid detaining the individual any longer than is necessary
- Detention for an excessive period of time is a common basis for judicial rulings that an encounter has become an arrest
B. Voluntary Encounters Background
It is not necessary that an officer have reasonable suspicion in order to approach and question a citizen. In such an encounter the officer may even ask questions intended to produce evidence of criminal activity as long as the encounter remains voluntary. Once an encounter ceases to be voluntary it becomes a Terry stop and is subject to Fourth Amendment considerations.
- An encounter will usually be viewed as voluntary as long as the circumstances are such that a reasonable person would feel that they were free to terminate the encounter at any time.
- The following are factors which do not, of themselves, negate the voluntary status of an encounter but are likely to be considered by a court or other authority during a review of the encounter to determine its voluntariness:
- Interference with the individual’s freedom of movement
- If an officer positions them self or their vehicle in such a manner as to block the individual’s path, this may indicate to the individual that he is not free to leave.
- Number of officers
- An individual confronted by more than one officer may be intimidated to the point that he does not feel free to break contact.
- Display of weapons
- Excessive display of weapons, especially firearms, that is drawn or pointed are likely to elevate an encounter to an arrest.
- Display of badges
- Prolonged or repeated display of badges or other police identification may be intimidating enough to an individual to affect the status of the encounter.
- Behavior of officers
- Officers should avoid exhibiting a threatening or bullying demeanor when conducting voluntary field interviews.
- Physical contact
- Physical contact with an individual for the purpose of stopping them or holding them to search for weapons or evidence will almost certainly negate the voluntary status of the encounter.
- Such contact will more often than not elevate the encounter to an arrest.
- Retaining personal property
- Any personal property, such as a driver’s license or other identification, taken from an individual should be returned promptly.
- Individuals may not feel free to leave as long as such items are held.
- Interference with the individual’s freedom of movement
- Although officers conducting field interviews in voluntary encounters are not required to advise individuals stopped of their right to refuse to answer questions and of their right to terminate contact at any time, individuals are not to be misled should they inquire or exercise such rights.
- Officers must keep in mind at all times when attempting to initiate voluntary encounters that the individual is under no legal obligation to stop, to speak with the officer, or to even acknowledge the officer’s presence. These types of responses do not justify an intensified police presence.