Sunday, September 18, 2016

Limiting searches would reduce public dissatisfation over police contacts

With the Texas House County Affairs Committee poised to consider racial profiling at traffic stops, Grits went this morning to see if the new triennial police-public contacts survey had been published yet by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, but no dice. The last one available covers 2011. Still, one doubts police-public interactions have changed that much in the intervening five years. Here are a few highlights from that survey:
  • White drivers were both ticketed and searched at lower rates than black and Hispanic drivers.
  • Across race and Hispanic origin, persons who were searched during traffic stops were less likely than persons who were not searched to believe the police behaved properly during the stop. 
  • About 1% of drivers pulled over in traffic stops had physical force used against them by police.
  • Of these drivers, 55% believed the police behaved properly during the stop.
  • About 6 in 10 persons age 16 or older involved in street stops believed they were stopped for a legitimate reason. [Grits note: That means 40% thought the stop was illegitimate!]
  • About 19% of persons involved in street stops were searched or frisked by police. The majority of persons who were searched or frisked did not believe the police had a legitimate reason for the search. 
Traffic stops made up 42 percent of police contacts nationwide in 2011, and most people who thought police behaved disrespectfully at a traffic stop or engaged in misconduct did not file a complaint.

Here's a decent argument from the data for requiring law enforcement to obtain written consent for searches at traffic stops, reviving a bill vetoed by Gov. Perry in a past life (perhaps the Dancing With the Stars contestant will reconsider this position now that he's a born-again Criminal Justice Reformer). That simple change would significantly reduce probable-cause-free searches across the board. Searching drivers at traffic stops when no contraband is found heightens resentment against police: Only three percent of drivers stopped nationally in 2011 were searched, according to this data (in Texas, that number varies widely by department), but 89 percent of drivers who weren't searched thought the officer behaved properly, a number which dropped by nearly a third to 61 percent among searched drivers.


Anonymous said...

I'll kindly ask again.

Grits - do we know if the stats include traffic encounters where events like ether DWI arrests, motorists with arrest warrants or a traffic accident then cause a vehicle inventory? If a motorist is arrested or transported to a hospital in the case of a traffic accident, officers will usually perform an inventory if there is no one else to release the person's vehicle to besides a wrecker. An inventory is a search.

DPS investigates thousands, if not tens of thousands of traffic accidents each year as well as arrests tens of thousands of fugitives and DWIs. Do the vehicle inventories of these encounters count as searches? Stolen vehicle recoveries with or without a driver could also cause an inventory/search.

So if a minority driver is stopped for speeding and the driver has an arrest warrant and is arrested, the trooper inventories the car. Would it be the trooper's fault if the next 4 or 5 arrests he/she made followed that similar pattern with a variety of warrant arrests, traffic crashes, and/or DWI arrests? An inventory is a search.

Scott said...

Traffic enforcement is not necessarily a customer satisfaction industry like that of the IRS or county tax assessor-collector. Most folks aren't happy to be stopped and/or receive a ticket.

Anonymous said...

There will always be more searches. Totalitarianism only flows in one direction.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to take this opportunity and remind readers that contrary to popular belief The Revolutionary War wasn't begun over an insignificant tea tax but rather it came about because of British cops who were searching everyone without justification.

Anonymous said...

Agree with 6:57 regarding the origins and impetus for our 4th Amendment rights. I think all police-public interactions should be 100% legitimate so I think we've come to a point where mandatory processes are followed at the level of detail where officers are required to memorize scripts laced with courtesy. How will we monitor compliance? Randomly selected audits of body cam footage.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that if someone is facing criminal charges due to officers finding contraband in the vehicle after a search, they're probably not going to be the best judges of whether the officers treated them fairly.

Anonymous said...

We don't want to know what the criminal is up to or what he has planned. We don't want to know. As we always say, no snitching! No searching!

Yes, and that applies to the bombers as well.

Gunny Thompson said...

I too agree with Anonymous 08:46 regarding 4th Amendment rights, however, history has shown that African-Americans are denied those rights and those of the 14th Amendment equal protection clause.

In reference to Anonymous 08:46 concerns whether mandatory processes are followed at the level of detail where Brown Shirts are required to memorize scripts lased with courtesy. My response is I would suspect that you would demand a least that at a minimum from someone with the power of your life or death or a member of your family. (Please don't take the reference as personal. It is only meant as a general comment)

Anonymous said...

We don't hear about the stops where nothing is found in an illegal search. Few have sympathy for the guilty one victimized by an illegal search and prosecutors fight to avoid application of the exclusionary rule.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@12:08, I'll answer again, since you apparently didn't like the answer the last time. The data breaks out consent searches vs. inventory searches, etc., and the critique of officer discretion is based on the former, not the latter.

@2:10, that's empirically false. E.g., in many jurisdictions searches have declined along with the number of traffic stops. They're a function of policy and practice, not some cosmic inevitability over which we have no control.

@10:36, what about the overwhelming majority of drivers who were searched but officers found nothing? Do you consider their impressions relevant?

Anonymous said...

12:08p here - Grits if you had answered it, I failed to see your original response. I believe I had posted that question(s) at least four times. Thx.

Anonymous said...

10:36 here. There impressions are very relevant and not heard because they don't file complaints or have to come to court and let judges and prosecutors know what these LEO'S are doing.

john said...

Still, "Traffic enforcement" and other "law" enforcement is nearly always revenue raising.
And they don't mind the jails are scary full, when they try to escalate your non-jailable Class C Misdemeanor into some felony, etc. After all, violent criminals can always be let out, early. I suspect that's because most of the criminals normally prey on regular, unarmed citizens, as opposed to gov authorities.

Many people enable tyrannical "enforcement," either because they fear in various ways (fear they'll attack ME, fear they'll take my guns, fear they'll put me in jail, fear they'll fine me), or because they are still brainwashed the cops (& unconstitutional federal police "agents") protect and serve--as seen on TV shows.

Politicians & the lawyers' guild (Bar Ass.) have put cops in a terrible position of protecting them, instead of We The Poor People. Cops a-plenty are good regular people, but they want to keep their jobs. Politicians provide corrupted oversight for the "law enforcement" levels.

d said...

How hard would it be to change the name of this blog from Grits For Breakfast to Grits For President?