Volume 76, Number 4

October 2001

Reciprocity on the Streets: Reflections on the Fourth Amendment and the Duty to Cooperate with the Police

David T. McTaggart

Illinois v. Wardlow, the Supreme Court’s most recent Fourth Amendment decision involving encounters between police and pedestrians, stands for a proposition that, at first glance, appears uncontroversial and commonsensical: If a citizen indicates a desire not to cooperate with a police officer, then that officer has “reasonable suspicion” to justify a limited search of the citizen. This Note argues, however, that the uncooperative citizen is, in many respects, symptomatic of a history of aggressive police activity. While the Fourth Amendment is aimed at preventing arbitrary invasions of liberty, the Wardlow opinion promises only to escalate the level of police activity, thereby fueling the cycle of antagonism between police and citizens. The cooperation of every citizen in the enforcement of our nation’s laws is the preferred normative aim, but this Note argues that such a goal will not be achieved unless and until the mutual perceptions of mistrust between the police and citizens are ameliorated. This Note analyzes the role that the Fourth Amendment might play in this endeavor and juxtaposes the right to ignore abusive police officers with the duty to cooperate with officers acting legitimately. The Note concludes that Fourth Amendment doctrine in this area has gradually granted unfettered discretion to police officers without providing appropriate guidelines to restrain the passions which accompany such a dangerous profession. It closes with some proposals by which all parties involved–pedestrians, individual police officers, and entire police forces–can respect one another’s interests and better serve society’s needs.