From those comments it sounds like Fort Bend deputies ask permission to search everyone they pull over, though we know from the department's reported statistics they're more likely to search when they pull over black and Latino drivers. Searching that many innocent people amounts to a fishing expedition completely unrelated to fighting crime - since only a tiny fraction of searches without probable cause find contraband, the Sheriff's policy diverts officers away from combating confirmed criminal activity in his jurisdiction.
Figures for the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office also were well above the state average.
The [Texas Criminal Justice Coalition] found that 13 percent of the drivers stopped in traffic investigations in Fort Bend were searched without probable cause. Anglos were searched more than 11 percent of the time, blacks were searched 18.4 percent of the time, and Hispanics almost 16 percent.
Sheriff Milton Wright defended his department's aggressive search policy, noting that both Interstate 10 and U.S. 59 — which he called "major drug corridors" — run through Fort Bend County. He added that searching for drugs is the mission of the Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, in which his department is a partner.
"We have (a drug) interdiction unit that stays on the road at least eight hours a day, and sometimes we run two shifts," Wright said. "If (motorists) give us permission, we search. If they don't, unless we have probable cause to go further, then we release them. I think we're doing what we're supposed to do."
The rate of searches by other agencies in the Houston HIDTA fell well below Fort Bend's. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office conducted nonprobable-cause searches 2.8 percent of the time overall. In Beaumont, the county seat, police searched drivers in 1.1 percent of their traffic stops.
Why waste so much valuable officer time in unproductive searches? Two words: Asset forfeiture. Or if you prefer: Profit motive. Otherwise, it's just an excuse to harass motorists who officers have no reason to believe have done anything wrong. That definitely doesn't make anyone safer - it's the law enforcement version of playing the lotto.
For more on consent searches and statistics for law enforcement agencies across Texas, see this report (pdf) from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and these area-specific fact sheets analyzing local numbers.