Texas A&M Law Review


Andrew Dammann

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In Illinois v. Wardlow, the Supreme Court announced that mere presence in a high-crime area is a constitutionally significant factor for deciding if there is the necessary reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot in order to justify a stop and frisk. Relying in part on the constitutional significance Wardlow attached to the vague term high-crime area, New York instituted an aggressive stop-and-frisk policy to combat crime and make New York a safer city. New York was sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in Floyd v. City of New York. New York’s appeal was dropped when new mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to the remedies outlined in the Floyd opinion. At the press conference where Mayor de Blasio announced the settlement that dropped the appeal, Police Commissioner William Bratton said, “[W]e will not break the law to enforce the law.” This Article asserts that enforcing the law without breaking it becomes impossibly problematic when the law is as uncertain as it is with high-crime areas.

This Article begins with a critique of the uncertainty created by attaching constitutional significance to high-crime areas without defining or describing what a high-crime area is. The Article urges city councils and other appropriate legislatures to designate which areas are high-crime areas. It argues that such a designation would foreclose the difficult problem of municipal liability that Judge Scheindlin grappled with in Floyd, that legislative designations of high-crime areas square with Fourth Amendment principles, and that legislatures, not executive auxiliaries like police departments, are the proper governmental bodies to make that designation.

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