ACLU of Ill. reports racial bias in traffic stops

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014
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CHICAGO -- A new report finds signs of racial bias in data collected about police searches during traffic stops in Illinois.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois released the report Wednesday.

It suggests police are nearly twice as likely to ask blacks and Latino drivers to consent to vehicle searches during traffic stops than they are to ask whites. But white drivers are 49 percent more likely than blacks to have contraband found during such a search and 56 percent more likely when compared to Latinos.

The report also noted racial disparity in the use of drug-sniffing dogs by police across the state. For example, Illinois State Police were more than twice as likely to conduct a dog sniff on a stopped vehicle driven by a Latino motorists, but white motorists were 64 percent more likely than Latino motorists to be found with contraband. Data also showed that half of all searches conducted by Illinois State Police in response to a dog's alert yielded no contraband.

The analysis is based on figures reported by law enforcement agencies during 2013 under the Illinois Traffic Stop Statistical Study Act.

"The 2013 data continues to paint a picture that is troubling and must be addressed," said Adam Schwartz, senior legal counsel for the ACLU of Illinois. "We see that these troubling signs of racial bias have persisted for a decade in many of our larger police agencies without any response - that has to end."

The study analyzed consent searches, which occur when a police officer asks a motorist for permission to search their car after a routine stop, even if there is no visible evidence to justify the search. Most drivers consent to be searched, since the setting of such a request is often coercive, taking place alongside a road with an armed police officer.

The study found that the Chicago Police Department, which conducted nearly 1,400 consent searches, was more than almost five times more likely to seek consent to search vehicles driven by African Americans, and just over four times more likely to seek consent to search vehicles driven by Latinos. However, white motorists were twice as likely than African Americans and Latinos to actually have contraband.

The Chicago Police Department responded to the study, saying, "The Chicago Police Department expressly prohibits racial profiling or any form of race-based policing and under Supt. McCarthy, CPD instituted new training, mandatory for all officers, focused on how they are to interact with individuals and the community. This is all designed to enhance our communication with residents about our processes while they are happening and build better relationships within the communities that they serve."

"This is a statewide problem, with troubling patterns emerging from nearly every corner of the state," said Schwartz.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.