The police traffic stop is the most common form of contact citizens have with police officers.83 If the officer has probable cause, she may also search a person’s vehicle. Officers may also stop and in some cases search pedestrians, if the officer reasonably suspects the person has committed or is about to commit a crime.84 Police may also indirectly interact with individuals who are criminal suspects when conducting a search of their home or when monitoring their phone calls, with a court order.85 This next section explores public attitudes about a variety of possible police practices regarding police stops and searches of pedestrians, cars, houses, and attitudes toward police surveillance.
83 Christine Eith and Matthew R. Durose, Contacts between Police and the Public, 2008, edited by Bureau of Justice Statistics (Washington: Department of Justice, 2011), https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpp08.pdf.
84 Terry v. Ohio, No. 67 (United States Supreme Court, 1968). For the safety of the officer, officers may search the person for weapons if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person is armed and dangerous.
85 Police may not need a court order to search a house if police have probable cause to believe a crime is contemporaneously being committed, such as they hear gunshots in a house or hear someone screaming for help.