Study: DPS targets Hispanics most in searches
Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Department of Public Safety officers are far more likely to ask Hispanic motorists for permission to search their vehicles than other groups, according to a new report.
But the study performed by the University of Cincinnati Policing Institute says there is no evidence that Hispanics are more likely to be carrying contraband. The report’s authors said the research shows that Hispanics are the least likely to object to the searches and least likely to be found in possession of illegal items when searched.
The report found that blacks are more likely to be asked to agree to so-called “consensual’’ searches than Anglos even though those searches are no more likely to turn up contraband than when police look through vehicles.
Separate from searches, the study also concluded:
• Hispanic drivers stopped by DPS were the least likely to be issued warnings as opposed to some other action;
• Native Americans were the most likely to be issued repair orders;
• Hispanics and blacks received the highest percentage of citations;
• Anglos were the least likely to be arrested and searched.
Dan Pochoda, legal director of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the report shows “there is clearly still some racially motivated profiling going on’’ despite a 2006 settlement between his organization and DPS.
The study comes as the Governor’s Traffic Stop Advisory Board made public its recommendations Tuesday of how DPS should conduct consensual searches. DPS Chief Mike Longman said many of those proposals are already in place or being implemented. That includes a provision that officers have “reasonable suspicion’’ of criminal activity before they ask motorists for permission to search their vehicles.
The recommendations also require DPS officers to get either written consent for consensual searches or have that consent recorded by audio or video.
Both the report and the recommendations are a direct outgrowth of the 2006 settlement, which requires DPS to collect “meaningful’’ data on its traffic stops for three years.
That lawsuit came after a study along two interstate highways showing blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be pulled over and, once stopped, more likely to be searched.
This new report, which covers 2007, is the second of the three.
Longman said that, despite the statistics in the report, he does not believe there is “systematic racial profiling or bias-based policing’’ at DPS. He said the disparities in the study, commissioned and paid for by DPS as part of that 2006 settlement, are far more likely due to other reasons.
“We’ve got to figure out why that is, ’’ Longman said. “We’ve got experts that are trying to help us do that.’’
The authors of the report, while saying there is a “statistically significant’’ disparity in who gets searched, said they cannot say for sure whether officers are engaging in racial profiling because of the “limitations of the available data and the plausibility of several explanations ... reported during focus group research with DPS officers.’’
Pochoda said that attitude is a problem. He said until DPS acknowledges there is a problem — whether conscious or otherwise — it won’t get fixed.
“We’re not saying they’re mean people, ’’ he said, adding that DPS actually may be doing a better job than other police agencies in being race-blind in who gets stopped and who gets searched.
“But it’s certainly nowhere near sufficient ... as the statistics demonstrate, ’’ Pochoda said.
Longman said DPS is now gathering more data from each traffic stop to determine if there really are other factors that can explain the disparity.