Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dallas PD to document consent to search at traffic stops

Thomas Paine admonished that time makes more converts than reason, and that's certainly been the case with law enforcement policies related to consent searches. In 2005, Governor Perry vetoed legislation requiring police to get written or recorded consent for vehicle searches at traffic stops if they didn't have probable cause. Now, Dallas is about to become the latest Texas city to adopt such a policy anyway. Reported the Dallas News ("Dallas police to get written or recorded consent before searches," Feb. 12):
A new Dallas police policy that requires officers to obtain recorded or written consent for consensual searches could be in place within two weeks, Chief David Brown said Monday.

The policy is one of several initiatives that Brown announced in the summer following a string of shootings involving police, including a fatal shooting of a suspected drug dealer that nearly sparked a riot in the Dixon Circle community of South Dallas in July.

Brown made the announcement during a City Council Public Safety Committee meeting on Monday. He said many of the racial profiling complaints the department receives each year are tied to traffic stops involving a search.

He said that even though fewer than 5 percent of all traffic stops result in a search, “perception-wise, racial profiling really boils down to a person wanting to know, ‘Why did I have to be searched given I was just stopped for a traffic stop?’”

The policy will apply to all forms of consensual searches without warrants, though it is likely that it will more commonly come into play in cases involving vehicle searches.
Austin PD last year reinstated a written consent policy that had been enacted several years before then was quietly scuttled. The policy was brought back last summer to counter recurring allegations of racial profiling: In 2011, one in eight traffic stops by Austin police involving black folks resulted in searches compared with one in 28 among white people.

Kudos to Dallas PD on taking this step and let's hope other jurisdictions follow suit.

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