6.220 - Voluntary Contacts, Terry Stops & Detentions

Effective Date: 08/01/2015


This policy applies to all voluntary contacts and Terry stops conducted by officers. 

1. Terry Stops are Seizures and Must Be Based on Reasonable Suspicion in Order to be Lawful

A Terry stop must be based on reasonable suspicion and documented using specific articulable facts as described in this policy.

This policy prohibits Terry stops when an officer lacks reasonable suspicion that a subject has been, is, or is about to be engaged in the commission of a crime.

Searches and seizures by officers are lawful to the extent they meet the requirements of the 4th Amendment and Washington Constitution Art. 1, Section 7. (See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968))

A Terry stop is a seizure for investigative purposes.  A seizure occurs any time an officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.  A seizure may also occur if an officer uses words, actions, or demeanor that would make a reasonable person believe that he or she is not free to go. 

2. Officers Must Distinguish Between Voluntary Contacts and Terry Stops

a. Voluntary Contacts Defined

There are two categories of voluntary contacts:

- Social Contact: A voluntary, consensual encounter between the police and a subject with the intent of engaging in casual and/or non-investigative conversation. The subject is free to leave and/or decline any of the officer’s requests at any point; it is not a seizure.

- Non-Custodial Interview:  A voluntary and consensual investigatory interview that an officer conducts with a subject during which the subject is free to leave and/or decline any of the officer’s requests at any point.  It is not a seizure.

Voluntary contacts are not seizures.  During voluntary contacts, officers must not use any words, actions, demeanor, or other show of authority that would tend to communicate that a person is not free to go.

b. Terry Stops Defined

- Terry Stop: A brief, minimally intrusive seizure of a subject based upon articulable reasonable suspicion in order to investigate possible criminal activity. The stop can apply to people as well as to vehicles. The subject of a Terry stop is not free to leave.  A Terry stop is a seizure under both the State and Federal constitutions.

- Reasonable Suspicion: Specific, objective, articulable facts, which, taken together with rational inferences, would create a well-founded suspicion that there is a substantial possibility that a subject has engaged, is engaging or is about to engage in criminal conduct. 

- The reasonableness of the Terry stop is considered in view of the totality of the circumstances, the officer’s training and experience, and what the officer knew before the stop.  Information learned during a stop can lead to additional reasonable suspicion or probable cause that a crime has occurred, but cannot provide the justification for the original stop.

A Terry Stop is a detention short of an arrest. All other detentions must be made pursuant to the policies for arrests without a warrant (6.010- Arrests), warrant arrests, (6.280-Warrant Arrests), traffic stops (16.230-Issuing Tickets and Traffic Contact Reports), or seizure of a person for a psychological evaluation (16.110-Crisis Intervention). 

3. During a Terry Stop, Officers Will Limit the Seizure to a Reasonable Scope

Actions that would indicate to a reasonable person that they are being arrested or indefinitely detained may convert a Terry stop into an arrest requiring probable cause or an arrest warrant.

Unless justified by the articulable reasons for the original stop, officers must have additional articulable justification for further limiting a person’s freedom during a Terry stop, such as:

- Taking a subject’s identification or driver license away from the immediate vicinity

- Ordering a motorist to exit a vehicle

- Putting a pedestrian up against a wall

- Directing a person to stand or remain standing, or to sit on a patrol car bumper or any other place not of their choosing

- Directing a person to lie or sit on the ground 

- Applying handcuffs

- Transporting any distance away from the scene of the initial stop, including for the purpose of witness identification

- Placing a subject into a police vehicle

- Pointing a firearm

- Frisking for weapons

- De minimis force

Taking any of these actions does not necessarily convert a Terry stop into an arrest.

4. During a Terry Stop, Officers Will Limit the Seizure to a Reasonable Amount of Time

Subjects may be seized for only that period of time necessary to effect the purpose of the stop.  Any delays in completing the necessary actions must be objectively reasonable.

Officers may not extend a detention solely to await the arrival of a supervisor.

5. During all Terry Stops, Officers Will Take Reasonable Steps to Be Courteous and Professional, Including Identifying Themselves

When reasonable, as early in the contact as safety permits, officers will inform the suspect of the following:

- The officer’s name

- The officer’s rank or title

- The fact that the officer is a Seattle Police Officer

- The reason for the stop

- That the stop is being recorded, if applicable (See Seattle Police Manual Section 16.090 – In-Car Video System)

When releasing a person at the end of a stop, officers will offer an explanation of the circumstances and reasons for the stop.  Officers will provide the person a business card with the event number as a receipt.  Officers will not extend a detention  to explain the stop or provide a receipt.

6. Officers Cannot Require Subjects to Identify Themselves or Answer Questions on a Terry Stop

In general, subjects are not obligated to provide identification upon request and have the right to remain silent. However, there are certain statutory exceptions that do require the subject to provide identification:

- When the subject is a driver stopped for a traffic infraction investigation (RCW 46.61.021) (failure to provide identification is a misdemeanor)

- When the subject is attempting to purchase liquor (RCW 66.20.180)

- When the subject is carrying a concealed pistol (RCW 9.41.050) (failure to provide CWP is a civil infraction)

Officers may not transport a person to any police facility or jail merely for the purpose of identifying them unless they have probable cause for arrest. 

Officers may arrest subjects for false reporting (SMC 12A.16.040) when they provide false written or oral identification.

7. Officers Can Detain Subjects to Identify Them in Order to Issue a Notice of Infraction

Under SMC 12A.02.140, when an officer has probable cause to issue a Notice of Infraction for any City ordinance violation, the officer may detain the subject for a reasonable period of time to identify the subject.  The subject does not have to identify themselves or provide identification when detained for a non-traffic infraction.

When officers have probable cause to issue a Notice of Infraction, and the subject refuses to identify themselves, the officer may request that a fingerprinting kit be delivered to the scene and detain the subject for a reasonable amount of time to facilitate the fingerprinting (approximately twenty minutes.)

-          Subjects who refuse or physically resist being fingerprinted or who attempt to leave while waiting for the fingerprinting kit can be arrested for obstructing (SMC 12A.16.010). 

8. Officers May Conduct a Frisk or Pat-Down of Stopped Subject(s) Only if They Reasonably Suspect That the Subject(s) May Be Armed and Presently Dangerous

The purpose and scope of the frisk or pat-down is to discover weapons or other items which pose a danger to the officer or those nearby.  It is not a generalized search of the entire person.  The decision to conduct a frisk or pat-down is based upon the totality of the circumstances and the reasonable conclusions drawn from the officer’s training and experience.

- A weapons frisk is a limited search determined by the state and federal constitutions.

- All consent searches must be conducted and memorialized pursuant to Manual Section 6.180.

- Officers may not frisk for weapons on a social contact or noncustodial interview.

- A frisk or pat down may not be used as a pretext to search for incriminating evidence.

- The fact that a Terry stop occurs in a high-crime area is not by itself sufficient to justify a frisk. 

In addition to the basis for the stop itself, the officer must have reasonable suspicion that the subject may be armed and pose a threat to the officer and/or others.  This may include, but is not limited to:

- Prior knowledge that the subject carries a weapon

- Suspicious behavior, such as failure to comply with instructions to keep hands in sight

- Observations, such as suspicious bulges, consistent with carrying a concealed weapon

The frisk for weapons is strictly limited to what is necessary for the discovery of weapons which might be used to harm the officer or others nearby.  Generally, the frisk must be limited to a pat-down of outer clothing.  Once the officer ascertains that no weapon is present after the frisk or pat-down is completed, the officer’s limited authority to frisk is completed. (i.e. the frisk must stop).

9. Under State Law, Traffic Violations May Not Be Used as a Pretext to Investigate Unrelated Crimes for Which the Officer Lacks Reasonable Suspicion

- Pretext is stopping a suspect for an infraction to investigate criminal activity for which the officer has neither reasonable suspicion nor probable cause.

- The Washington State Constitution forbids use of pretext as a justification for a warrantless search or seizure. 

- Officers must actually, consciously, and independently determine that a traffic stop is reasonably necessary in order to address a suspected traffic infraction.

- Reasonableness of the stop is based on an objective view of all the facts, not the officer’s subjective belief.

10. Officers Must Document All Terry Stops

Officers must be able to clearly articulate the objective facts they rely upon in determining reasonable suspicion.

Officers must document all Terry stops on the Terry Stop Data Collection Template attached to either a GO Report or Street Check. Officers must use a separate template for each person seized during a Terry stop.

Officers must submit all Terry Stop Templates before they leave at the end of their shift.  The documentation should contain all information requested in the Terry Stop Template, but at a minimum must contain at least the following elements:

- Original and subsequent objective facts for the stop or detention

- The reason (including reasonable suspicion or probable cause) and disposition of the stop (including whether an arrest resulted; and whether a frisk or search was conducted and the result of the frisk or search)

- Demographic information pertaining to the subject, including perceived race, perceived age, and perceived gender; and

- Any complications or delays that contributed to an inability to fill out all information on the Terry Stop Template.

11. Supervisors Shall Approve the Documentation of Terry Stops

Absent extenuating circumstances, by the end of each shift, supervisors will review their officers’ GO Reports and Street Checks that document the Terry stops made during the shift to determine if they were supported by reasonable suspicion and are consistent with SPD policy, federal and state law.

If a supervisor concludes that a Terry stop appears to be inconsistent with SPD policy, the supervisor, in consultation with the commander, shall address the concern with the officer involved and take action as may be appropriate. Such action may include PAS documentation and/or referral to OPA.  The supervisor shall document these concerns and any actions taken on a supplemental when approving the GO Report or Street Check.

If a supervisor finds the documentation to be insufficient, that supervisor first shall require that the officer supplement the documentation before the end of that shift.