Should Illinois Continue Tracking Racial Bias In Police Stops? | WGLT

Should Illinois Continue Tracking Racial Bias In Police Stops?

Mar 4, 2019
Originally published on March 4, 2019 5:00 am

An Illinois study of racial profiling in police stops is set to expire in July. State lawmakers are considering whether to keep collecting data.

The 2004 law, sponsored by then-state Sen. Barack Obama, requires police to keep track of the driver’s race and the outcome of the traffic stop. It was later amended to include pedestrian stops, as well as consent and dog sniff searches.

Each year, about 900 agencies report traffic stop data. It’s then analyzed by the Illinois Department of Transportation to determine whether — and to what extent — race plays a factor in police stops.

Supporters of making the practice permanent argue the information helps identify and address racial disparities in policing.

A study by the ACLU of Illinois found minority drivers statewide were 1.5 times more likely than white drivers to be pulled over.

Ken Page, president of the organization’s Springfield chapter, told House lawmakers Tuesday that figure is often worse in cities.

In Springfield, Page said, black drivers made up over 40 percent of traffic stops, despite only being about 20 percent of the population.

“Once stopped, black drivers were asked for consent to search their cars nearly three times more often than white drivers, even though from 2015 to 2017 black drivers were found with contraband about 1.4 times less often,” he said.

Page said monitoring police stops confirms the experience of many people of color across the state and provides an opportunity for dialogue about how to improve police-community relations.

But the effort to continue the study is facing resistance from law enforcement groups, who claim data collection is burdensome to small departments and causes the public to be more critical of police.

“They’re being pushed further under the microscope.Their actions are being looked at in a less positive way, even though police are still the good guys,” said Mark Donahue, with the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. “What this information is perceived as doing is opening up a more viable means by which people can make false allegations against the police.”

Donahue said skepticism caused by the study hinders officers’ ability to do their jobs. He told lawmakers that pedestrian stops dropped 80 percent in Chicago after the legislation took effect.

The ACLU study, however, shows traffic stops increased 500 percent over the same period.

Donahue said that’s because police are seeing more traffic violations now that their time isn’t spent on pedestrian stops, which take more time to report because of additional data collection requirements in Chicago.

“These people are out there for eight to ten hours. They’re going to do something. They want to be the police,” Donahue said. “There’s a certain amount of work that needs to be done and they’re attempting to do it the best that they can.”

This argument drew criticism from some lawmakers.

“It’s sounds like what you’re saying is that officers, to kill time on their shifts, are arbitrarily increasing the volume of traffic stops they’re making,” said state Rep. Will Guzzardi, a Democrat from Chicago.

There are currently no mandates on how law enforcement agencies collect their data — only on what data needs to be collected.

The original law called for IDOT to convene a committee of statisticians, police and community groups to determine best practices. That never happened, but the legislation to make the study permanent would again require a committee to meet.

The legislation is House Bill 1613.

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