Sunday, March 15, 2009

6544: Searching For Answers.

From The Chicago Sun-Times…

Study, fix problem of racial profiling

The uncomfortable facts, presented in the charts below, are these:

Police forces throughout Illinois much more often search, with permission, vehicles driven by African Americans and Hispanics than by whites, even though they more often find contraband—such as drugs and guns—in the cars driven by whites.

It is difficult to interpret those facts any way other than to conclude that the police, on the whole statewide, discriminate against black and Hispanic drivers.

For that reason, the American Civil Liberties Union is pressing for a complete ban on such “consent searches,” and this page is one editorial in the near future away from endorsing the ACLU’s position.

If the police can’t find a way to conduct consent searches without discriminating by race or ethnicity, they should not be allowed to do them at all. Searches still would be allowed on the basis of credible suspicion, such as the smell of pot, but no longer solely on the basis of an officer’s instinct.

But we’re reluctant to take that stand today. We believe there is something to the argument that a seasoned police officer develops a sixth-sense about when something “isn’t right” and should be allowed—after getting the driver’s permission—to pursue that gut feeling.

For now, we’re taking a more moderate stand, urging Gov. Quinn and top legislative leaders to appoint members to a panel intended to study and fix the problem, the Racial Profiling Prevention and Data Oversight Board.

The 15-member board was created by the Legislature more than two years ago, but few members have been appointed. Back in July, we first called for the board to be appointed—obviously to no avail—but those were dysfunctional times in Springfield. Our hope is that a new governor and a greater spirit of cooperation will get the job done now.

We also urge the Legislature to pass a bill sponsored by Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) that would continue the collection of data on consent searches. If House Bill 648, which is opposed by major police agencies, is not passed, data collection will end on Dec. 31.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan told us this week she would like to see the board appointed immediately, and she supports Davis’ bill.

If the board is to come up with solutions to what looks like blatant racial profiling, it needs the freshest data possible. Only hard numbers, not police assurances, will show us that discrimination has ended.

The data below, analyzed by Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety, are for 2007. The 2008 data, which we are told will show no letup in racial profiling, are due out this summer.

But what will the 2009 numbers show? That depends entirely on what we do now.

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