Racial Profiling: Latest Illinois Report Prompts Civil Rights Groups to Call for End to Consent Searches

The Illinois Department of Transportation earlier this month issued its annual report on race and traffic stops. The results showed that police were much more likely to ask minority drivers to consent to searches without probable cause, but that they were much less likely to actually find drugs, guns, or other contraband in consent searches directed at minority drivers.

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car search
The results are consistent with the first three years of results under the state's traffic stop racial profiling monitoring program. That program went into effect in 2004 after the state legislature passed legislation authored by then state Sen. Barack Obama (D) enacting it.

The results prompted a coalition of civil rights groups to last week call on Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to end the practice of consent searches. In a letter to Blagojevich, the ACLU of Illinois, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the Rainbow/Push Coalition and several other civil rights groups called consent searches an "invidious device" that results in "condition of inequality imposed on minority citizens on our roadways."

The groups specifically asked Blagojevich to end consent searches by the Illinois State Patrol, which had even worse results than law enforcement at large. According to the statewide data, police agencies searched blacks three times more often and Hispanics more than twice as often as whites. But police discovered illicit goods roughly twice as often when whites agreed to searches. State troopers similarly singled out minority drivers, but their "hit rate" for discovering contraband during consent searches was even more racially skewed. Troopers were twice as likely to discover contraband in consent searches of whites than blacks, and eight times more often than in vehicles driven by Hispanics.

"Now we have the proof in the pudding and that is that not only are these searches occurring with greater frequency among minority drivers, but that they are occurring with dramatically less effectiveness," Harvey Grossman, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune.

"Officers are more trusting of whites than they are of blacks, and they are particularly suspicious of Hispanics," Grossman said of state police. "It's clear from the data that officers require less certainty when they ask Latinos to be searched than they do whites, there are more stringent standards for whites."

The Tribune also reported that Blagojevich, who has been critical of racial profiling in the past, issued a statement saying he opposed "any unjustified differential treatment of any group," but did not address the request to stop the searches. "I look forward to working with the coalition to further our shared goals," Blagojevich said.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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