(January 27, 2017) - It's Friday, and time for Ask CCPD #3! This week's question comes from Adam via the Ask CCPD section of the website:

"There are a lot of videos of police interactions on YouTube where police automatically try to ID civilians just for making contact. From what I've read there is a specific Supreme Court ruling that states they require the police to have reasonable articulate suspicion of a law they broke or are about to break to be obligated to identify themselves. Is this true and if so why do a lot of police try to ignore this ruling?"

Good question, Adam. Most encounters between police and citizens are called "consensual encounters". Nothing prohibits an officer from walking up to anyone and striking up a conversation, just as you are free to walk up to anyone and do the same. We don't always ask for ID, but when we do we may ask just as a matter of officer safety, so dispatch knows where we are and who we are speaking to. However, in a consensual encounter you are not obligated to provide us with your identification. You aren't even obligated to talk to us at all, but many of us just want to be friendly, and not all encounters with the public need be adversarial. 

As for beyond a consensual encounter, the Supreme Court ruling you are referring to is Terry v. Ohio from 1968. This ruling held that the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures was not violated when an officer stops a citizen on the street, if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.

Take for example an officer locating a person near a closed business in the middle of the night, or behind a residence that isn't theirs. Florida State Statute 856.021 on loitering or prowling states it to be "unlawful for any person to loiter or prowl in a place, at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding citizens, under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity." Most law-abiding citizens aren't lurking in backyards or near closed businesses at odd hours, but this alone isn't illegal. An officer can stop you in these cases to determine what you're up to.

There are 3 main components an officer may consider when deciding to make an arrest for loitering/prowling: Does the person take flight (run) at the sight of law enforcement? Did they purposefully hide or conceal themselves from police? And lastly, do they refuse to identify him/herself? So in this case, do you have to identify yourself to an officer? The answer is still no....but a refusal in a case like this may factor into the officer's decision as to whether they go to jail for loitering/prowling or not. 

To your question as to why "a lot of police ignore this ruling", I would submit that 99.9% of the time this isn't the case. A YouTube video doesn't always, and perhaps rarely, shows the entire encounter. All officers at the Cape Coral Police Department are well aware of Terry v. Ohio and what they can and cannot do during encounters with the public. And just maybe, all we're doing is saying "Hi, how ya doing?" just like anyone else.

Hopefully this answered your question....there is a link below that you can read Florida's loitering statute in its entirety (it's not too long). Thank you again to all of you who submitted questions, and keep them coming! You can submit your questions by visiting the Ask CCPD section of our website. See you next week!

Link to Florida State Statute 856.021 Loitering or prowling

About the Author:

PHOTO:  Corporal Phil Mullen, Cape Coral Police Department Public Affairs Officer.  (Photo Courtesy of Cape Coral Police Department)

PHOTO:  Corporal Phil Mullen, Cape Coral Police Department Public Affairs Officer.  (Photo Courtesy of Cape Coral Police Department)

Corporal Philip Mullen is a nine year law enforcement veteran assigned to the Office of the Chief of Police and serves as Assistant Public Affairs Officer for the Cape Coral Police Department.

For the last 9 years, Corporal Mullen served as a Patrol Officer in our Patrol Bureau, and as a Field Training Officer, preparing new recruits for the rigors of police work over the past 5 years. Corporal Mullen is a member of the Cape Coral Police Department Honor Guard and has represented the Cape Coral Police Department across the United States.  He is a recipient of two Lifesaving Awards and the department's highest honor, the Medal of Honor. Phil holds a Bachelor's Degree in Public Safety Administration from Edison State College.


CAPE CORAL POLICE DEPARTMENT | Public Affairs Office | 1100 Cultural Park Boulevard | Cape Coral, FL 33990 | (239) 242-3341