Police More Likely to Stop, Search Minority Drivers in Chicago and Scores of Area Suburbs | NBC Chicago
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Police More Likely to Stop, Search Minority Drivers in Chicago and Scores of Area Suburbs

NBC5 Investigates analyzed state reports and found that police in Chicago and 114 suburbs were more likely to find contraband in the cars of white drivers, but still searched minority drivers at higher rates

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In an effort to reduce racial-profiling, taxpayers have paid more than $1.6 million for the state to compile traffic-stop and vehicle-search data from every police department in Illinois. By law, a state board is supposed to meet every year to analyze that data and make recommendations, but NBC5 Investigates discovered the board has rarely even met. Phil Rogers reports. (Published Thursday, May 19, 2016)

    You see the blinking lights in your rearview mirror: You’ve just gotten pulled over by police. For many drivers, a stop like this ends with a citation, or maybe just a warning.

    But police in Illinois have the option to go further, and ask to search a car – even if there’s no obvious probable cause. It’s called a “consent search,” and police do them tens of thousands of times every year throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

    But NBC5 Investigates has found a perplexing trend in Chicago and scores of surrounding towns: Year after year, many local police are more likely to search a car driven by a minority driver as opposed to a white driver (when weighted for population).

    Is this because minority drivers are historically more likely to have illegal contraband?

    Actually, the exact opposite is true: Year after year, police in these towns are consistently more likely to find illegal contraband – such as guns or drugs – in white drivers’ cars. Yet they continue to search them less.

    To Chicago activist David Lowery of Chicago, this is no surprise. He’s the founder of the Living & Driving While Black Foundation, a non-profit corporation that has been addressing the issue of racial profiling for more than ten years.

    “All the young people think this is normal,” Lowery says, “that this is the way it’s supposed to be.”

    This contradictory pattern hasn’t changed for many police departments in more than a decade, despite state law and a state board formed specifically to address this problem. Police continue to conduct more searches on minorities, despite more contraband found on whites, even though advocates like Lowery – and a former state senator named Barack Obama – have launched efforts to tackle the issue of racial profiling by police across Illinois.

    In 2004, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law – spearheaded by then State Senator Obama – requiring every police department to report the number of traffic stops and vehicle searches conducted by officers each year, classified by the race of the driver.

    Those reports are posted online, as part of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Illinois Traffic Stop Study (ITSS), and you can look up your town’s report for every year on that website.

    The law also created the Racial Profiling Prevention and Data Oversight Board, with 15 members who are supposed to meet every year to analyze these stop-and-search reports and recommend ways to reduce racial profiling. The state also pays a consultant to prepare an annual report, which has cost taxpayers more than $1.6 million dollars to date.

    But NBC5 Investigates has found that the board has only met a few times; members admit that virtually no one is looking at the annual reports, and it’s not exactly clear if anyone is using this data to recommend changes in how police choose to stop and search drivers.

    So NBC5 did a complete analysis of the most recent set of data – for police stops and searches in 2014 – for Chicago and 374 surrounding communities. We also looked at past years’ data to see if certain police departments showed patterns of searching drivers more often than others. In all cases, the rates are weighted proportionally, based on the percentage of minority drivers in a community.

    We found several local police departments consistently stopped minority drivers more often – 23% more often, statewide.

    But the more striking pattern shows up in the searches:

    NBC5 Investigates found that police in Chicago, and in 115 surrounding communities, were more likely to do “consent searches” of minority drivers’ cars. Yet in every one of those 115 towns, they were more likely to actually find illegal contraband resulting from their searches of white drivers’ cars.

    Take the Chicago Police Department: It has a solid history of “consent searching” minority cars at rates two, three, four, and even five times more often than white people’s cars, even though white drivers consistently are found to have more illegal contraband, every year. Here are the numbers, based on CPD’s annual ITSS reports going back to 2004:

     

    • 2014 – CPD performed consent searches on minority drivers’ cars 4.20 times more often than white drivers (based on population). But CPD actually found contraband, as a result of those consent searches, 66% more often in white drivers’ cars.
    • 2013 – CPD performed consent searches on minority drivers’ cars 4.24 times more often than white drivers (based on population). But CPD actually found contraband, as a result of those consent searches, twice as often in white drivers’ cars.
    • 2012 – CPD performed consent searches on minority drivers’ cars 3.83 times more often than white drivers (based on population). But CPD actually found contraband, as a result of those consent searches, 28% more often in white drivers’ cars.
    • 2011 – CPD performed consent searches on minority drivers’ cars 3.65 times more often than white drivers (based on population). But CPD actually found contraband, as a result of those consent searches, 26% more often in white drivers’ cars.
    • 2010 – CPD performed consent searches on minority drivers’ cars 5.83 times more often than white drivers (based on population). But CPD actually found contraband, as a result of those consent searches, 21% more often in white drivers’ cars.
    • 2009 – CPD performed consent searches on minority drivers’ cars 4.78 times more often than white drivers (based on population). But CPD actually found contraband, as a result of those consent searches, 72% more often in white drivers’ cars.
    • 2008 – CPD performed consent searches on minority drivers’ cars 3.78 times more often than white drivers (based on population). But CPD actually found contraband, as a result of those consent searches, 9% more often in white drivers’ cars.
    • 2007 – CPD performed consent searches on minority drivers’ cars 4.66 times more often than white drivers (based on population). But CPD actually found contraband, as a result of those consent searches, 19% more often in white drivers’ cars.
    • 2006 – CPD performed consent searches on minority drivers’ cars 4.01 times more often than white drivers (based on population). (The ITSS did not keep track of “contraband found” figures that year.)
    • 2005 – CPD performed consent searches on minority drivers’ cars 3.34 times more often than white drivers (based on population). (The ITSS did not keep track of “contraband found” figures that year.)
    • 2004 – CPD performed consent searches on minority drivers’ cars 2.75 times more often than white drivers (based on population). (The ITSS did not keep track of “contraband found” figures that year.)

     

    CPD officials declined NBC5’s request for an interview about their consent searches, but issued this statement: 

    The Chicago Police Department believes the civil rights of all Chicagoans should be respected. Every officer at the department is trained in procedural justice, which emphasizes the fair treatment and respect of the residents we serve. Traffic stops only occur when officers observe suspected criminal activity, moving, or vehicle violations. During a traffic stop, if an officer believes there is a safety risk or criminal violation, they may ask for voluntary consent to search a vehicle. In the interest of transparency and accountability, CPD documents and reports all traffic stops and publicly releases this data.

    Additionally, the coordination of all traffic safety efforts, including DUI, speed enforcement and traffic patrols are based on historical crime and traffic data.

    But this disparity stretches into many suburbs as well.

    NBC5 Investigates has compiled a map of the stop and search rates for every Chicago-area police agency for 2014, and analyzed how likely each department was to stop and search a car belonging to a minority driver as compared to a white driver. We also computed how likely it was for each department to actually find illegal contraband as a result of those searches, weighted for the racial makeup of each town’s driving population.

    This is the exact information that is supposed to be analyzed every year by the Racial Profiling Prevention and Data Oversight Board. Illinois law mandates that the Board is supposed to meet annually and make recommendations.

    But according to the board’s website, the term of every single one of its fifteen members has officially expired. And according to a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, the board has only met a total of four times since 2008. It didn’t even have a chairman for the first four years of its existence.

    There is an “annual report” created with ITSS data each year – containing a series of charts and graphs, summarizing all the numbers submitted by Illinois’ 900+ police departments. But a board member tells NBC5 Investigates that he’s not sure who – if anybody – actually looks at those annual reports.

    But they’re expensive: NBC5 Investigates has learned that IDOT pays a consultant to prepare the reports each year, at a cost of $1,661,147.90 since the ITSS studies began, with an additional $168,000.00 to be paid in 2017.

    The board member agrees that these reports should be looked at much more thoroughly. But he adds that the mere collection of this data has, itself, drastically decreased the numbers of traffic stops and vehicle searches over the past decade.

    At least one local police chief – Norman Nissen of the Northlake Police Department -- agrees that the data has a lot of potential to be extremely helpful. But, he warns, it can also be skewed, because of outdated census figures that don’t necessarily reflect the current makeup of a community’s motorists.

    And Nissen thinks the data would be more useful if police could analyze it in real time, and not just at the end of the year. “When you can really understand why -- on a Thursday between five and nine o’clock -- there are more searches on a specific street,” he says, “it could be defended pretty easily, if that street has a drug house or a gang problem.”

    David Lowery, for one, just wants something done. “We’ve been looking at the problem for years, now,” he says. “There need to be changes.”

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