Newsbrief: Texas Racial Profiling Study Finds No Progress, Calls for Ban on Consent Searches 3/4/05

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Nearly four years after the Texas legislature, responding to complaints about racially-based policing, enacted legislation to track racial profiling, blacks and Hispanics continue to be stopped and searched at higher rates than whites, according to a study released in February. The study, conducted by Steward Research Associates of Austin, surveyed 2003 data from more than one thousand Texas law enforcement agencies.

Officially required data reporting showed that two-thirds of law enforcement agencies searched minorities at higher rates than whites. Of those agencies that reported higher rates of minority searches, 71% searched blacks and 90% searched Hispanics at rates more than 50% higher than those for whites (or Anglos, as they say in Texas).

Similarly, minorities were more likely to be the subjects of "consent searches," those searches that take place without any evidence of a crime being committed and where drivers are asked to voluntarily give up their Fourth Amendment rights to consent to a search. Those searches typically come in the form of, "Don't mind if I take a look, do ya?" which is also the title of the report. According to the report, 60% of Texas law enforcement agencies were more apt to ask minorities to consent to searches, and three out of four of those agencies asked minorities to consent to searches more than 50% more often than Anglos.

But police did not gain much by searching minority drivers. Of those agencies that searched minorities at higher rates, 51% were more likely to find contraband among Anglo drivers than blacks and 58% were more likely to find contraband among Anglo drivers than Hispanics. "Without some explanation of mitigating factors by law enforcement agencies, this would indicate that police are not only engaging in race-based policing but are ineffectively and inefficiently utilizing law enforcement resources," the report concluded.

Given the lack of progress in reducing race-based policing in Texas, the report sought means of reining it in through policy changes, primarily by banning consent searches. In addition to creating racial disparities, consent searches simply "aren't fruitful," the study said. "In order to reduce unnecessarily high minority search rates, the Texas Legislature should ban consent searches in Texas," the report bluntly concluded, noting that four states -- Hawaii, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island -- have already banned such searches, while the California Highway Patrol ended the practice as a result of a lawsuit.

What's so bad about consent searches? Well, they aren't really consent searches. As the Austin American-Statesman noted, "If a person refuses to give consent, police can detain the driver until a drug-sniffing dog arrives, which can take hours, or arrest the person for almost any fine-only offense, such as failing to use a turn signal." The American-Statesman was incorrect in stating that police can hold drivers indefinitely while awaiting a drug-sniffing dog -- federal courts are divided on just how long is reasonable -- but its larger point is well-taken: When asked to consent to a search, you either waive your rights or prepare to be punished.

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Issue #377 -- 3/4/05

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