Saturday, April 11, 2009

Stat of the Day: Being Searched By the Police

According to the US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2005, whites, African Americans, and Hispanics were essentially equally likely to be stopped by police for a traffic stop.

However, once stopped, blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be searched or to have their cars searched.

  • 3.6% of whites were searched
  • 9.5% of blacks were searched
  • 8.8% of Hispanics were searched
This report does not provide information on what percentage of searches, disaggregated by race, produced illegal contraband. However, according to the Drug War Chronicle past reports which have included this information have shown that whites are more likely to have illegal contraband. This pattern is born out in various statewide studies, which, hopefully, will be included in future "Stat of the Day" features. The Drug War Chronicle also points out that a political powers sought to suppress information on racial profiling in a past report.

Read the full Bureau of Justice Statistics report for 2005 (pdf)
Read the full Drug War Chronicle article

From what I can see, there is at least a reason to suspect an intentional suppression of data that may reveal flaws in the so-called War on Drugs. This data would be a severe blow who are reluctant to condemn police action when it comes to race. Many argue that it's appropriate that blacks and Latinos make up a disproportionately high number of persons searched, as evidenced in the data above, because we're the ones with the illegal stuff to be searched for. However, the data seems to suggest that this is untrue. Whites are actually more likely to have contraband. This undercuts the rational used for racial profiling.

Now, of course blacks and Latinos make up a greater proportion of the persons searched, arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to prison, and we tend to receive harsher prison sentences than whites who commit the same crimes. So if you judge who has more contraband or commits more crime by simply looking at conviction rates or prison populations, of course it will appear that minorities commit most of the crimes in America. However, the data cited above and that I will continue to post in the near future, suggest that this may not be true.

An earlier "Stat of the Day" stated that only 13% of drug users are black, but 35% of the those arrested, 55% of those convicted, and 74% of those sent to prison for drug possession. It's easy to see how this could happen when blacks are more likely to be searched.

So, what should the take away be from this?
  1. There are racial differences in the likelyhood of being searched.
  2. Racial profiling is ineffective. What sense does it make to more frequently search a demographic that less frequently has contraband?
  3. Considering all this, how can anyone refute the fact that there is still oppression of minorities and white privilege in the United States?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i can appreciate your research and agree with your point.