Sunday, July 27, 2008
Civil rights groups called Thursday for ending the state police practice of searching vehicles during routine traffic stops, citing new statistics that show black and Hispanic motorists are searched more often even though drugs or other illegal items turn up more frequently among white drivers.
In a letter to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the groups said the state-funded research shows that minorities are unfairly singled out by police departments around the state. They called on him to order the Illinois State Police to end "consent searches," in which drivers agree to open their cars for inspection.
"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," said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois.
Although similar reports have for the last several years revealed that minorities are stopped and searched at higher rates than whites, last year was the first time police agencies were required to disclose their "hit rate," or how often the searches turn up drugs, weapons, stolen goods or other "contraband."
The Democratic governor said in a statement that 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.
The state police called the proposed ban a "drastic step" and said it was premature given that the latest numbers are part of a yearslong study into potential discrimination that won't end until 2010.
"Biased-based policing is unacceptable and will not be practiced or tolerated by the ISP," Director Larry Trent said in a statement.
The study, required under racial-profiling legislation sponsored by then state Sen. Barack Obama of Chicago, is being conducted by the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety based on numbers reported to the state by police agencies around Illinois. [Mark Godsey]