Friday, August 26, 2005

Feds: Racial profiling occurs during searches at traffic stops

Via CrimProf blog, while much attention has focused on the Bush Administration's sacking of a Justice Department official who opposed the coverup of statistical evidence of racial profiling at traffic stops, just as interesting are the findings themselves:

Based on interviews of about 80,000 drivers in 2002, a DoJ Bureau of Justice Statistics (BLS) study found that whites and minorities were stopped at roughly the same rate, but minorities were about three times as likely to have their vehicle searched by police after they'd been pulled over. According to BLS, "During the traffic stop, police were more likely to carry out some type of search on a black (10.2%) or Hispanic (11.4%) than a white (3.5%)"

The DoJ findings jibe with what we've seen from Texas' racial profiling data, which showed that minorities are subjected to searches significantly more often after they're stopped, especially to so-called "consent searches."

A 2005 study, sponsored by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas LULAC, Texas NAACP and ACLU of Texas, similarly found disparities in "post stop" search practices by Texas police. Reports from 1,060 police and sheriffs' departments were gathered and analyzed representing millions of traffic stops.
Often search rates vary more in Texas by department than they do by race, but two out of three Texas law enforcement agencies reported searching blacks or Latinos at higher rates than whites following a traffic stop. Of those, a majority reported disparities of 50% or greater. That's a lot -- more than enough to qualify as a statistically significant difference -- but less than was reported in DoJ's survey.

Of course, survey data and raw data from traffic tickets won't give an apples to apples comparison. But generalizing broadly from the Texas and national numbers, this much still can be said: While debate continues about
whether minority drivers are stopped more frequently, it's pretty clear from available statistical evidence that black and Latino drivers are treated differently by police after they've been pulled over.

The Texas Legislature this spring debated and passed legislation to require police officers to obtain written consent to search vehicles at traffic stops without probable cause, but Governor Perry vetoed the bill.

4 comments:

Tom Gaylor said...

While the federal statistics once again show a disparity in the way minorities are treated after a traffic stop, they stop short of hazarding a guess about why that might occur. This and other studies like this have continued to fuel the fire of racial tension between law enforcement and minority groups.

The plain and simple truth about these studies is that they have never and will never be able to explain the reason for the disparity and special interest groups rush to label police as racists.

As a sociologist and a criminologist the danger of never determining why the disparities exists is that we will never be able to address the real issues.

In criminal statistics and prison populations minorities groups are drastically overrepresented so why should we be surprised that the numbers of minorities searched or arrested would be any different. This is not to say our criminal justice system is racist, but to point out that there may be a different reason, such as socioeconomics.

It is a well know fact that socioeconomics play a significant role in crime and motivators of crime. More crime (violent crime) occurs in lower socioeconomic areas. More crime is commmitted by those and against those who live in lower socioeconomic areas. It is an unfortunate truth, as well, that minorities are overrepsented in lower socioeconomic areas. These facts are not a function of law enforcement and are well beyond the control of law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement is purely reactive in nature. Police officers are assigned to areas because of high crime and calls for services. The formula is simple: more crime more officers. Police officers are trained to observe crime and react to it. More officers in high crime areas means more contacts with the residents of those areas and its not addition its multiplication. In other words more officers assigned to areas of high minority concentrations will result in a disproportionately large number of stops, arrests, and searches.

This does not give law enforcement cart blanch to stop and harrass minorities because of their disadvantaged socioeconomic status. But what we are saying is that it should not be a surprise to find a disportionate (as realted to their representation in the general population) number of minorities searched and arrested when you compile data after the fact.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Funny, Tom, I never knew you as a criminologist and sociologist, but as a police union lobbyist for the Texas Municipal Police Association.

The differences in arrest rates don't explain, as you know, why officers request consent to search more often for minorities than for whites under circumstances where they have no probable cause to search. That's not reactive, that decision is entirely within the officer's discretion, which is why its considered by many to be a useful measure of whether profiling is occurring.

Thanks for stopping by, Tom!

Anonymous said...

See - now, this ratio of stops and searches, this is why I always have a firearm in my vehicle. To make sure that I never get searched, I don't wear anything below my waist. That way, the officer can see immediately, without searching, that my weaponry is relatively insignificant.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"See - now, this ratio of stops and searches, this is why I always have a firearm in my vehicle. To make sure that I never get searched, I don't wear anything below my waist. That way, the officer can see immediately, without searching, that my weaponry is relatively insignificant."

In all my years on the internet, that may be the funniest thing I have ever read. Thanks for the laugh.