Illinois questions whether to address racial profiling

Traffic stop study results raise more questions than answers

News The State Journal-Register July 23, 2007
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For the past three years, Illinois police have tracked every traffic stop and reported each incident in detail in the hopes of a better look at racial profiling.

The results indicate that minorities are targeted in traffic stops.

For the study’s third year, 2006, police pulled over about 2.5 million drivers. Results showed minorities were pulled over 32 percent of the time, although they account for about 28 percent of the driving population, and were much more likely to be searched than whites.

Minorities were more likely than whites to be pulled over for equipment, license or registration violations, and more likely than whites to be ticketed.

Police rarely conduct consent searches, but when they do, minorities are asked more than twice as often as whites.

Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, who pushed for the annual study—created by state lawmakers in 2003 to address complaints of racial bias—says it proves that racial profiling “is not a myth, that it actually does occur.”

However, some feel that the police actions are just. State Police Col. Michael Snyders said the agency’s increases since 2004 are a result of an aggressive effort by troopers to cut down on roadside fatalities. That includes a new motorcycle detail that makes thousands of stops per month and targeted enforcement on interstates and other high-traffic areas. Those efforts will continue, he said.

“It still seems to be worth it,” Snyders said.

The data also show large differences in stops among different departments, and even within some agencies from year to year.

Of the over 900 police departments surveyed, more than 360 departments reported pulling over minorities in smaller numbers than their estimated driving population last year. And of the five departments that reported the biggest increases in stops from 2004 to 2005, three reported that stops declined in 2006.

People on both sides of the issue caution that it’s premature to expect significant reforms quickly, for several reasons. For one, the results themselves can be deceiving. For example, stops statewide climbed from 2004 to 2005, and again in 2006, but that tally includes huge increases in both years from the Illinois State Police. All other agencies saw stops decline slightly in the last two years.

A state panel was created last year to review the study’s results, but hasn’t met yet because not all its members have been appointed. And police agencies and activist groups say there’s little urgency to act immediately on widespread reforms.

“Right now I don’t know that anybody is looking at it or getting all that excited about it,” said Laimutis “Limey” Nargelenas of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

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