Monday, March 06, 2006

Drug interdiction driving racial profiling in Fort Bend Sheriff consent searches

Drug interdiction units on major highways in Fort Bend County (southwest of Houston) account for the high rate of consent searches there, according to comments by the Sheriff in the Houston Chronicle ("Searches for minorities still more likely," March 5). I'd written earlier how out of whack consent search figures were for the Fort Bend Sheriff compared to neighboring agencies, and now we know why. Wrote reporter Steve McVicker:

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.

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.

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.


Anonymous said...

This is not hard to catch or stop. Some active hispanic groups have done this in other states.

Outfit three cars with video recorders and microphones. Have all three drive the routes and make sure one of the cars has a white, non hispanic driver, while the other two hispanic.

Video tape and record the stops just make sure the recording devices are not recording when the occupant of the car, the consentee, is not in the car.

This was used with great success.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, Jessica!

Is this the same Jessica who did some layout work for ACLUTX a couple of years ago?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jessica, you can do what I do without any college degree at all - the last school to award me a diploma was Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler. Even then I think there was probably some clerical mixup. ;-)

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Whoop! Three times must be a charm.

Three fallacies in one post topic!

Anonymous said...

whoever wrote this column is ignorant idiot! i bet you love talking about cops and your life probably is a mess. the fact it is an exception to a search with a warrant to search if you are given consent. Plus these stops did not evolved you, it involved the persons stopped. stay out of crap that you have no business being involved in. your freedoms in this country should pertain to yourself. if my neighbor wishes to give the cops consent to search when they are stopped then that is their business. all this is is gossip! stupid gossip! ever heard of "reasonable suspicion", i bet probably not. and oh, by the way cops really can't catch a criminal, because of stupid idiots like you who restrict their duties and abilities to take down the criminals. like i aid stupid.

Anonymous said...

i wish more idiots could ride with a police officer and see what they do. all those who talk crap would get their behinds handed to them. if everyone could adopt this motto: "don't commit a crime, and you'll have noting to worry about". if a cop pulls me over, i will be happy to cooperate with him and if needed, he can search my car. no problem you know why, because i obey my laws as civilized people should do! those who don't like cops, have always had run ins with cops and committed crimes. educated people who speake out against cops, are just in it for the media and or profit, just like the author of this article.