School of Criminal Justice Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Justice and Human Services

First Advisor

Tina Jaeckle

Second Advisor

Marcelo Castro

Third Advisor

Gregory Vecchi


Stop-and-frisk has become a significant issue of debate in recent years with both the constitutionality and effectiveness of the practice coming into question. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has especially come under scrutiny for their stop-and-frisk program in recent years with researchers finding that minorities and the disadvantaged were being targeted by the NYPD during stop-and-frisk encounters. The majority of the research had focused on New York City, and thus there was little data on the use of stop-and-frisk in other jurisdictions. Moreover, there were few studies that examined officer characteristics, such as college education, agency size, etc., on stop-and-frisk and their effect on officers’ understanding of Terry v. Ohio and the legal standard of reasonable suspicion. It was important to understand what extralegal factors police officers were considering prior to stopping someone to ensure that they were not profiling suspects. Moreover, it was necessary to determine if the officers were following the law regarding what factors constitute reasonable suspicion. A qualitative research design in the form of a case study was utilized to explore how college-educated police officers in small to mid-sized agencies in suburban Western Pennsylvania describe the factors that lead to their decision to stop-and-frisk an individual. The participating police officers possessed either a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree with varying levels of rank and experience. The officers were interviewed in person and questioned regarding their stop-and-frisk practices as well as their understanding of the legal requirements necessary prior to conducting such encounters. A general inductive approach was utilized to analyze the data. NVivo software was utilized to identify categories and themes within the participant interviews consistent with a general inductive approach. A number of categories were identified in reference to how the officers described the legal and extralegal factors that led to their decision to stop-and-frisk when the interview responses were analyzed.