No Matter What You Call It, It’s Still Profiling
According to a story in The Chicago Sun-Times in September of 2005, minorities are more likely than whites to get pulled over in 32 suburban communities of Chicago. The story, which covered an analysis of data from the Illinois Department of Transportation, says that minorities are three times as likely - or higher - in a dozen suburbs, and more than nine times as likely in one suburb. The odds of a vehicle search are also higher for minorities, as much as four-and-a-half times as high in one suburb.
The first argument is over the statistics themselves. Statisticians say these results are not significant because they’re estimated from census figures, and not the result of direct observations. Furthermore, statisticians might argue that some police officers might not know the race of the driver when they pull him or her over. In addition, the statistician who oversaw the study, Alex Weiss of Northwestern University, said the results did not substantially deviate from the expected results. However, Weiss said consensual searches of minorities’ vehicles seemed significantly higher than expected.
Another argument comes from the police, who claim that the people who conducted the study didn’t look closely enough at the communities. If they had, claim some police officers and police chiefs, they would have seen that many minorities work in or commute through their towns, but do not live there, thus skewing the data.
But researchers stand by their data. They claim, for instance, that towns next to each other that have similar demographic census statistics, also have widely varying findings in the minority makeup of traffic stops, which would seem to indicate racial profiling.
Even a retired sheriff admits that some young officers are eager to prove themselves by writing a lot of tickets. If they pull over residents too often, the residents complain. So, the sheriff theorizes, those officers pull over minorities passing through.
One retired police officer, who is black, says his story backs up what many African-Americans already believe. He says he and his African-American friend were driving in their BMW when a white police officer pulled them over to question the darkness of the car’s window tinting. When the driver showed the officer his badge, the officer backed off, saying, "You know how it is."
Police chiefs sensitive to the issue are ordering closer scrutiny. This is part of a greater effort put forth by state leaders in 2004, who ordered all police departments in Illinois to record the race of drivers in every stop, as well as the results: ticketed, searched, or let go, independent of any charges regarding whether or not the searches were legal or if any drivers hired lawyers to file charges. No matter the future results, the 2005 study will likely be the standard against which all subsequent similar studies will be compared.