By Starla Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –
CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) - In 2004 in an effort to study and identify alleged patterns of racial profiling and bias during police traffic stops, the State of Illinois began requiring every law enforcement agency provide data on traffic stops. The results then showed Blacks and Latinos were more likely to be pulled over than Whites for a traffic stop and more than two and a half times more likely than Whites to have their car's contents searched when pulled over.
The 2010 statistics released in mid-July of this year by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), prepared by the Center for Research in Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows nothing has changed. The new data shows Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately targeted.
This new report comes on the heels of an administrative complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois to the special litigation section of the civil rights division at the U.S. Department of Justice June 7 to investigate “substantial racial disparate impact” caused by the Illinois State Police consent searches.
“We have seven years of data that consistently show that African-American and Latino drivers are consistently two to three to greater than three almost four times likely to be consent searched as White drivers,” said Edwin C. Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the Illinois ACLU.
According to the data, it is more likely that contraband will be found in the cars of White motorists, Yohnka told The Final Call. He says the reason the ACLU filed a complaint with the DOJ is because they could not get the political leadership in Illinois to focus on the issue and to “deal with it.”
Yohnka says the ACLU had repeatedly reached out to current Illinois Governor Pat Quinn as well as recently convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich with few results. The initial bill authorizing the traffic studies was introduced in 2003 and “championed” by then Illinois state senator, now President of the United States Barack Obama.
In 2006, a statewide panel consisting of state legislatures and others was supposedly formed to analyze the data and make recommendations. For whatever reason that panel has never been formed and has never met says Yohnka.
“There's a very simple solution to this particular problem. The governor of the State of Illinois controls the state police. He could pick up his pen today and sign an order which places a moratorium on all consent searches and the harm that takes place every single day on the highways and byways of our roads and expressways in Illinois through the use of these consent searches would be brought to an end,” explains Yohnka.
In a telephone call to Gov. Quinn's office by The Final Call, a representative referred all questions regarding the matter to Monique Bond, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Police (IPS). Bond says IPS is currently reviewing the information from 2010 and previous years to make sure the data provided is consistent and to also analyze what the data means. “What was behind that stop? Were there weapons recovered? Were there narcotics recovered? Did it lead to a criminal investigation?” asked Bond.
All of this needs to be taken into account before we can just come out and just accept numbers as they are in their raw form, Bond told The Final Call in a telephone interview. Bond also stressed that with “consent searches” the person has the right to refuse to have their vehicle searched.
“There is no need for investigation. These are seven consistent years of data that has revealed and continues to reveal this problem,” argues Yohnka.
Out of 443,000 stops in 2009 less than one percent is for consent to search says Bond. “So there's probable cause and when they are being stopped, their initial stop isn't based on the color of their skin, they're doing something to be stopped,” says Bond. There is some violation to make an officer stop a motorist, she added.
Out of those stops, continued Bond, over 2,000 firearms and almost 15,000 pounds of illegal narcotics were seized.
However according to the last several years of IDOT data, Blacks and Latinos are still being asked to consent to a search more often even though they are found less likely to have contraband.
Yohnka says there is no set standard for consent searches established in Illinois so vehicles are often searched “on a hunch” by law enforcement. “Clearly the police and the Illinois State Police in particular are applying a different standard to those hunches when it comes to African American and Latino motorists then when compared to White motorists,” he added. Whatever the cause of that different standard ought to be stopped says Yohnka.
Everybody wants to feel safe and secure in their community. But, the problem with these consent searches is the valuable time that law enforcement could spend looking for someone who is actually engaged in some type of criminal activity, he added.
In response to an email inquiry from The Final Call to the DOJ seeking response to the ACLU complaint as well as the 2010 IDOT report, a spokesperson said, “The department is reviewing the letter. We decline further comment at this time.”