The Center for Research in Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago released its most recent study of traffic stops. The annual studies, which began with data collection in 2004, were designed to analyze by race the traffic stops made by police departments throughout the state to see if racial profiling was involved. The research group analyzed both pre-stop and post-stop measures. “Pre-stop considerations” refers to the reason for the search, to which the researchers assigned three categories: moving violation, equipment and license/registration. Post-stop measures, which the researchers said are “more reliable than pre-stop” ones, are the duration of the search, its outcome, the racial distribution of consent searches and the results of those searches.
In the state as a whole, the researchers found “minority drivers were about 8 percent more likely to be cited on a traffic stop than Caucasian drivers.” These figures show an increase over 2007 but a decrease from 2006, when minorities were about 10 percent more likely to be cited, the report said.
Results of the study of data submitted for 2008 by the Evanston Police Department are more favorable to minority drivers than those statewide. The study showed that 5,363 Caucasian drivers and 4,142 minority drivers were stopped: Caucasian drivers accounted for 56.4 percent of the stops and minority drivers, 43.6 percent.
Moving violations accounted for about 80 percent of the stops of Caucasian drivers and about 67.6 percent of the minority drivers. There was about a 10 percent gap between Caucasian and minority drivers stopped for equipment violations – 5.5 percent of stops of Caucasians and 15.8 percent of stops of minorities were for equipment violations. Licensing/registration violations were closer – accounting for 14.4 percent of stops of Caucasian drivers and 16.6 percent of stops of minority drivers. [Categories employed in the study were Caucasian, African-American, American Indian, Hispanic and Asian.]
More than 80 percent in both categories – 86.3 percent of Caucasian drivers and 81.4 percent of minority drivers – were given a citation. Nearly 8 (7.94) percent of Caucasian drivers and slightly over 12 (12.2) percent of minority drivers received written warnings; 306 Caucasian drivers (5.7 percent) received verbal warnings, as did 264 minority drivers (6.3 percent).
Statewide, the mean duration of a traffic stop was 12 minutes for Caucasian drivers and 14 minutes for minority drivers. Times were shorter in Evanston: the mean duration for Caucasian drivers, for Asian drivers and American Indian drivers was 10 minutes. The mean duration for African-American drivers was 11 minutes, and for Hispanic drivers, 13 minutes.
Evanston police requested 22 consent searches of the stopped vehicles – nine from Caucasian drivers, nine from African-American Drivers, three from Hispanic drivers and one from an Asian driver, according to the study. All drivers except one African-American consented. Contraband – such as “drugs, drug paraphernalia, weapons, stolen property” – was found in two searches of Caucasian drivers, two of African-American drivers and one of an Asian driver, the study showed.
Those statewide figures show that “when a vehicle driven by a minority driver was consent-searched, officers found contraband 15.1 percent of time,” as compared with police officers’ finding contraband 24.4 percent of the time when a Caucasian driver was consent-searched. The 2008 figures about consent searches showed that “although minority drivers are about 2.5 times likely as Caucasian drivers to be the subject of a consent search, police are 1.6 times more likely to find contraband in the vehicle driven by a Caucasian driver.”
The researchers drew some favorable conclusions from the data: that the ratio of minority drivers stopped by police is getting closer each year to the estimated minority driving population, that traffic stops of minority and Caucasian drivers consume about the same time.
Police Chief Richard Eddington said of the Evanston findings, “We are absolutely pleased with the results. … We take this [study] very seriously. … We sit down and review with each individual officer and monitor the information as [it is] gathered.”
Chief Eddington added, “However, if you think you’ve been mistreated, statistics don’t matter. The issue [for the police department] comes down to ‘How was the individual treated?’ There is a significant amount of review [of complaints about police conduct]. All reports go to the Human Services Committee.” He added that he felt the several layers of review – by the police themselves and two appointed citizen committees – “help to dispel” the notion that not everything is reported. Transparency, he said, is of primary importance to him.