If you're Black, a cellphone is a lethal weapon

August 14, 2013

In Blog

The NYPD’s training on the identification of weapons invites unjustified stops based on “suspicious bulges” that are not in fact suspicious, and constitutionally unjustified frisks and searches based on objects that officers cannot reasonably suspect to be weapons. In particular, the training draws attention to several “unusual firearms,” such as a gun shaped like a pen, a gun shaped like an old-model cell phone, and a folding gun that fits into a wallet. It is no doubt valuable for officers’ safety to know that such weapons exist. However, the outline of a commonly carried object such as a wallet or cell phone does not justify a stop or frisk, nor does feeling such an object during a frisk justify a search. The training materials are misleading and unclear on this point. The materials encourage officers to perform stops and frisks without reasonable suspicion based on the now-ubiquitous bulge created by a cell phone or other common objects. [From Judge Shira Scheindlin’s decision declaring “stop-and-frisk” unconstitutional]