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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011 08:41 pm

Minorities disproportionately stopped and searched

ACLU wants federal investigation of racial bias

A study of traffic stop data released by the Illinois Department of Transportation shows minority drivers in Illinois and in Springfield are more likely than white drivers to be stopped and searched by police. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is pushing the federal government to investigate racial bias in traffic stop searches.

The IDOT study, released July 1 and produced by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says law enforcement agencies in Illinois conducted 2,377,851 traffic stops during 2010. Minority drivers accounted for 759,039 of the total stops – 32 percent – while minorities make up an estimated 28 percent of the state’s driving population.

Minorities in Springfield were stopped at higher rates. Springfield Police conducted a total of 21,776 stops during 2010, out of which 8,863 were minority drivers – a rate of 40.7 percent. The estimated minority driving population of Springfield is 15.8 percent.

Minorities stopped by Springfield police were also more likely to face a request for a police search of their vehicle. Out of 8,863 minority stops conducted by SPD, the police requested permission to search the vehicle in 425 cases, or 4.8 percent. White drivers were stopped 12,913 times by Springfield police, but permission to search vehicles was only requested in 311 cases, or 2.4 percent.

The data also show searches of vehicles driven by minorities in Springfield yielded contraband less frequently than searches of vehicles driven by whites. Springfield police performed 394 minority-driven vehicle searches in 2010, but found contraband in only 54 cases – a rate of 13.7 percent. Out of 283 searches of white-driven vehicles, police found contraband in 59 cases, a rate of 20.8 percent.

Commander Alan Pinter of the Springfield Police Department defends the department’s traffic stop record.

“We don’t believe there is any racial bias in our traffic stops,” Pinter says. “It’s been shown there’s not a single causation for a traffic stop. There are multiple causations for any stop.”

In response to the IDOT report, the Springfield Police Department releases its own study annually, produced by Michael Hazlett, a professor at Western Illinois University’s School of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration. The department’s 2009 study, released in October 2010, says IDOT’s analysis of data from 2009 doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Like in earlier years, such an Illinois Department of Transportation benchmark is overly simplistic, not reflecting the interaction of other factors that may influence a particular stop besides race,” says the SPD study. “After examination of variation in stops by beat location, higher traffic stops patterns are more likely to occur in the same areas where calls for service, crime and arrests for serious crime were also high.”

The SPD study essentially says police tend to stop more people in areas where there are already higher concentrations of police dealing with other issues. The 2010 SPD study will likely be done sometime in October, Pinter says.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union sees the statewide data as evidence that the Illinois State Police unfairly target minorities for vehicle searches. On June 7, ACLU sent a complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice, requesting a formal investigation of racial bias in traffic stop searches by ISP troopers. While ISP stopped minorities at a rate three percent below their proportion of the driving population, the IDOT study shows ISP troopers were more likely to request a search of a minority-driven vehicle. Out of 110,957 minority stops conducted by ISP, troopers requested permission to search the vehicle in 449 cases, or 0.4 percent. That’s compared with 332,951 stops of whites, in which ISP troopers requested a search 497 times, or 0.15 percent.

“..[I]n many cases, the motorist’s supposed ‘consent’ to search is not truly voluntary,” ACLU wrote in its letter to DOJ, which notes that between 94 and 99 percent of stopped motorists consent to searches when requested by an ISP trooper.

“Consent is often granted on an isolated roadside in a one-on-one encounter with an armed law enforcement official,” ACLU continues. “This setting is inherently coercive. Many civilians believe they must grant consent. Other civilians fear the consequences of refusing to grant consent, such as the issuance of extra traffic citations, or the delay caused by further interrogation or bringing a drug-sniffing dog to the scene.”

Created by the Illinois General Assembly, the IDOT traffic stop program was originally authorized to run from 2004 to 2007, but it has since been reauthorized to continue until 2014.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

LINKS:
Springfield Police study: http://www.springfield.il.us/Police/Trafficstop-Study-Final2009.pdf

IDOT study: http://www.dot.state.il.us/trafficstop/results10.html

ACLU complaint: http://www.aclu-il.org/aclu-complaint-doj-should-investigate-racial-bias-in-illinois-state-police-consent-searches/

ACLU on IDOT study: http://www.aclu-il.org/new-data-shows-racial-bias-in-police-consent-searches/

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