The Psychology of Stop and Frisk

483292865When Johanna Williams, a doctoral student at Howard University, lived in New York City, a police officer stopped and questioned her. She wasn’t frisked, in part because she had a badge indicating that she worked at Child Protective Services, she presumes.

In general, stop-and-frisk policies allow police to question someone whom they reasonably suspect has committed, is committing or is going to commit a crime. If the officer has good reason to think the person is armed and dangerous, he or she can pat them down.

Most discussions and research on stop-and-frisk policies tend to center on racial profiling, highlighting victims and community members who have been affected by them. But Williams’s work focuses on the other faction involved in these situations: the police. “If you don’t also look at the people who are enforcing this and their thought processes behind this, we are missing a huge part of the discussion,” she said at the Thursday APA convention session “We Want You! The Psychology of Stop and Frisk.”

Williams said police officers’ enforcement of stop-and-frisk policies is influenced by multiple factors, including work culture, cultural identity and history of trauma. “These police officers are coming with particular backgrounds that may heighten or lessen their degree of intrusion or use of excessive force,” she said.

Williams suggested that the TSC-2, a trauma-screening test, be used during aspiring police officers’ psychological evaluations. She also endorsed psychological assessments for police officers every six months and integrated psychological services that encompass police officers’ families. “Those are just some starting points,” she said.

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