It sounds like a bad joke: A cop rolls up to a citizen and says “what’s up, guys.” The citizen does not respond. He puts his head down and starts walking faster. The reason for the stop? He was staring. The New York Law Journal reported that “[a]n appeals court set aside a man’s conviction for weapons possession after concluding that his arrest was premised on nothing more than the defendant looking in the direction of police as he walked in a ‘higher-crime’ area of Buffalo.” Was this a friendly greeting or a police inquiry?
The Court finds that the police’s action required a reason. More than simply a police officer engaging with a citizen, the officer engaged in a level of intrusion as discussed by De Bour and its progeny. Indeed, [the officers engaged in a level one approach and request for information when they concluded the traffic stop after observing defendant and the other men walking down the sidewalk, crossed the street in their marked patrol vehicle in order to drive alongside the men, and asked them the basic, nonthreatening question, “what’s up, guys?” (see People v. Howard, 129 AD3d 1654, 1654; People v. Johnston, 103 AD3d 1202, 1203, lv denied 21 NY3d 912; People v. Carr, 103 AD3d 1194, 1194). Contrary to the People’s contention, it cannot be said, under such circumstances, that the officers’ approach and inquiry was merely a “friendly greeting” that did not constitute a request for information (cf. People v. Thornton, 238 AD2d 33, 35)] Pp. 2 (internal citations preserved). more
Police are allowed to interact with citizens from on day to day encounters. Whether buying a cup of coffee or saying hello, police officers have that latitude to speak to people during their tour of duty. The question becomes when does the interaction from the police become one where the approach and, (what likely follows), the subsequent seizure and/or search becomes illegal.
The testimony at the suppression hearing established that at approximately 6:30 p.m. on January 18, 2013, a Buffalo police officer and his partner were conducting a traffic stop in the parking lot of a gas station when they observed defendant and two other men walking down the sidewalk on the other side of the street in a “higher crime area.” According to the officer, defendant was “staring” at him and his partner or at their marked patrol vehicle. Upon concluding the traffic stop, the officers crossed the street in their vehicle in order to drive alongside the men, the officer asked, “what’s up, guys?” from the rolled-down passenger window, and defendant then put his head down and started walking away at a faster pace. The officer thereafter observed defendant drop a gun holster to the ground and, after exiting the vehicle and picking up the holster, the officer saw defendant discard a handgun into nearby bushes. The officer’s partner positioned the patrol vehicle to cut off defendant’s path of travel, and defendant was eventually apprehended.
Pp. 1-2 (external quotation marks omitted). Here, the Defendant pled guilty to criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. The appeal comes by way of the Defendant’s contention that the Supreme Court was wrong in refusing to suppress physical evidence, namely the handgun. The issue here is the police approach as described above.