The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday, calling for an investigation into alleged persistent racial bias in consent searches conducted by Illinois State Police (ISP) troopers.
Data collected under the Illinois Traffic Stop Statistical Study Act of 2003 reveals that Illinois troopers are more likely to ask Hispanic and African American motorists for consent to search their vehicles, even though they are more likely to find illegal contraband when searching a car driven by a Caucasian.
“Years of data make clear that consent searches by the ISP are conducted in a racially disparate manner,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois.
Hispanic drivers were 2.7 to 4.0 times more likely to be consent searched, which occurs when officers do not have legally sufficient cause to search a vehicle, but instead ask the driver for permission to conduct a search. African Americans drivers were 1.8 to 3.2 times more likely than white drivers to be consent searched.
In their complaint (PDF), the ACLU called on the Justice Department to end the “invasive” and “racially discriminatory” searches used by Illinois troopers during routine traffic stops.
“Consent is often granted on an isolated roadside in a one-on-one encounter with an armed law enforcement official,” the complaint stated. “This setting is inherently coercive. Many citizens believe they must grant consent.”
Data from the study shows that between 94 percent and 99 percent consent to a search when asked.
The ACLU also alleged that the Illinois government knew about the racial disparities in consent searches for many years, but failed to do anything about it.
“Minority drivers across the State of Illinois continue to be subjected to these humiliating searches on our highways and expressways,” Grossman added. “It is time to end this practice.”
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