Is Police Pat Down Search for Weapons Allowed Based on An Anonymous Phone Call ?
In Commonwealth v. Anderson, 481 Pa. 292, 392 A.2d 1298 (1978), the police received a telephone call from an anonymous caller who said there was a man who was an escapee from a drug rehabilitation program in a bar at a particular location.
The caller described the man as an African-American male named "Perry" who was about 5'10" with a large "bush" hair style and wearing a dark coat. Id. at 293, 392 A.2d at 1299.
In response, two police officers were dispatched to the bar.
Once in the bar they saw Anderson who they believed matched the description of the person referred to in the telephone call.
One of the police officers initiated conversation with Anderson and asked if he was carrying weapons.
Before Anderson could respond, the other officer touched Anderson's jacket pocket and felt what he believed to be a gun.
The object was taken from the pocket by one of the officers and it was revealed to be a .22 caliber handgun. Anderson was arrested, charged and convicted of a variety of offenses relating to possession of the firearm. Prior to his trial Anderson filed a motion to suppress the firearm as evidence, which was denied.
The Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia denied his petition for a writ of certiorari and our Court affirmed his conviction. Id. at 294, 392 A.2d at 1299.
On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed our Court, holding that the search of Anderson was improper under the circumstances and that consequently the evidence of the firearm should have been suppressed.
In reversing, our Supreme Court had occasion to discuss the fundamental public policy considerations and constitutional interests which a court must consider and carefully weigh when determining if the actions of the police in detaining and frisking an individual were warranted:
In striking the balance between the public interest and the individual's right to personal security free from arbitrary interference of law enforcement officials, the initial inquiry must focus upon the propriety of the initial restraint of appellant's freedom of movement.Adams v. Williams, [407 U.S. 143, 92 S. Ct. 1921, 32 L. Ed. 2d 612 (1977).] As noted by Mr. Justice Harlan in a concurring opinion in Terry, the right to "frisk" depends upon the reasonableness of a forcible stop to investigate a suspected crime. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. at 33, 88 S. Ct. 1868.4
The reasonableness "of such seizures depends on a balance between the public interest and the individual's right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers", United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S.  at 878, 95 S. Ct.  at 2579, [45 L. Ed. 2d 607].
The Terry Court made it clear that such a balance cannot be struck where the police are acting upon information that would not warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that the action taken was appropriate. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. at 21-22, 88 S. Ct. 1868.