End “consent searches” by police, end racial profiling

Editorial

August 13, 2014 3:58PM

Updated: September 15, 2014 5:24PM

For at least a decade now, Illinois state troopers have been guilty of racial profiling when conducting “consent searches” of cars and trucks.

The Illinois State Police long ago stopped trying to deny the problem, confronted with annual studies full of statistical proof. Instead, they have tried to train troopers to be more sensitive to racial profiling and quit doing it.

But retraining has not worked, and let’s stop pretending it ever will. The only recourse is for the state police — and police departments across Illinois — to stop doing consent searches altogether. As a crime-busting tactic, consent searches are of limited value. As a transgressor of our civil liberties, they cannot be tolerated.

In consent searches, police officers ask motorists during routine traffic stops for permission to search their cars. The officer has a hunch — nothing more — and wants to check the trunk and under the seats for drugs and illegal guns and the like. Motorists almost always say yes. Who says no to a cop?

But a new study released this week by the ACLU, drawn from data from the Illinois Department of Transportation, confirms what previous studies have concluded — racial profiling goes on. Blatantly. Across the state, African-American and Latino drivers are nearly twice as likely as white drivers to be asked for consent to have their car searched. In Chicago, the numbers are even more lopsided.

Could it be that black and Latino drivers simply have more to hide — and the cops know it? Not at all. White motorists are 49 percent more likely than African-American motorists to have contraband discovered during a consent search, and 56 percent more likely when compared to Latinos.

Three years ago, we called on the state police to stop doing consent searches, but the latest few studies make an excellent case that every police force should ban them. The great majority of consent searches turn up no contraband and solve no crimes. Mostly they just send an ugly message that blacks and Hispanics are second-class citizens on Illinois roads.

The state Legislature should ban consent searches.

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