Minorities Must be Criminals, Otherwise There Wouldn’t Be So Many of ‘Em in Prison

New DOJ data confirming that minorities receive harsher treatment than whites during traffic stops came as no surprise to us. Last week I discussed the study, warning that DOJ’s poor reporting could embolden racial profiling apologists, despite the obvious disparities revealed in the data. Unfortunately, I was right.

Profiling skeptic Steve Chapman now exploits DOJ’s report in a widely published editorial that’s as sloppy as it is wrong:

Why would black drivers be arrested more often? Maybe because African-Americans commit crimes at a far higher rate and are convicted of felonies at a far higher rate. In 2005, for instance, blacks were nearly seven times more likely to be in prison than whites.

This is textbook circular reasoning of the sort that will earn you an F in Philosophy 101. By Chapman’s logic, police could stop investigating white people entirely and we’d soon see that minorities commit 100% of all crimes.

By relying on the argument that increased searches of minorities are justified by their criminality, Chapman exposes his own unfamiliarity with the data he’s discussing. The previous DOJ report, released in 2005, addresses this issue directly:

Likelihood of search finding criminal evidence

Searches of black drivers or their vehicles were less likely to find criminal evidence (3.3%) than searches of white drivers (14.5%), and somewhat less likely than searches of Hispanic drivers
(13%).

This data comes straight from a report referenced by Chapman, yet he insists that “a motorist of felonious habits is also more likely to have illegal guns or drugs on board,” and “the average black driver is statistically more likely to be a criminal than the average white driver.”

The great irony here is that Chapman offers his made up statements about the heightened criminality of minorities while arguing that racial profiling doesn’t exist. His premise fundamentally endorses profiling and any officer who agrees with him is highly vulnerable to the exact behavior Chapman denies. It is really just priceless to find gratuitous racial stereotypes in an article about how the days of gratuitous racial stereotyping are behind us.

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Racial Profiling: Another DOJ Cover-up?

A new report from the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) shows that black and Hispanic drivers are significantly more likely to be searched, arrested and subjected to the use of force than whites.

It was initially encouraging to see the DOJ release this year’s report without any shenanigans considering what happened last time:

The Justice Department intervened, insisting that BJS not publicize that nasty part about minority drivers being more likely to be searched, arrested, handcuffed, beaten, maced, or bitten by dogs.

A conflict emerged in the course of which BJS Director Lawrence A. Greenfeld was removed from his post. His attempt to provide the media with an unbiased summary of his agency’s findings was apparently too much for his superiors at the DOJ. Ultimately, no press release was sent out, and the study was unceremoniously posted in the bowels of the BJS website.

Perhaps it’s a sign of progress and lessons learned that DOJ declined to bury this year’s equally shocking findings. After all, covering up racial profiling is one way – however shameful and undignified – of admitting that it exists.

Yet, upon closer inspection, we find that this year’s BJS report omits the single most important piece of information contained in the previous report: hit-rate data showing whether minorities were more likely to be hiding contraband.

Likelihood of search finding criminal evidence

Searches of black drivers or their vehicles were less likely to find criminal evidence (3.3%) than searches of white drivers (14.5%), and somewhat less likely than searches of Hispanic drivers
(13%).

This revealing fact fundamentally undermines the sole premise from which police agencies and others have sought to defend ongoing racial disparities such as those revealed this week. Consider the following hypothetical (but really quite typical) debate with a racial profiling apologist:

RPA: There’s no such thing as racial profiling. Cops don’t even know the race of the driver until after they’ve made the stop.

Me: Who gets pulled over is only one part of the equation. The data show that minority drivers are more likely to be searched, arrested, and subjected to the use of force after being stopped…

RPA: Well, if that’s true it’s because those people committed more crimes.

Me: Actually, the data show that searches of white people are more likely to produce evidence of a crime.

RPA: Wow, you must have gotten straight A’s at the Al Sharpton Academy of Social Science.

Me: This data comes from the Department of Justice.

RPA: Hang on, I’m getting a call. Oh yeah, gotta take this. Good talk.

DOJ was able to provide a racial breakdown of hit-rates in its previous report (the one it buried) thus the omission of such information from this week’s report is highly conspicuous. And of course, DOJ’s previous attempts to cover up racial profiling data attest to the agency’s lack of candor and credibility on this issue.

The larger question then is why the Department of Justice seeks to downplay racial profiling in the first place. BJS reports primarily reflect the behavior of local law-enforcement agencies, not the feds. The only real embarrassment here for DOJ is its ongoing failure to provide adequate monitoring of police practices at the state level. An activist such as myself may be keenly aware of DOJ’s abdication of this responsibility, but I suspect that most people are not.

In any case, we’d be hard pressed to generate any further controversy surrounding cover-ups at the Department of Justice this season. Instead, let’s do our best to make sure everyone knows how to handle police encounters. No matter how thorough, a traffic stop report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics won’t save your ass on the New Jersey turnpike anyway.

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4th Amendment Victories in State Courts

We’ve got some more required reading for all you “4th Amendment is dead” fools who keep farting on our freedom parade. I know, there’s no shortage of police, judges, and prosecutors who can’t find big enough boots to trample your rights with. Believe me, I know. But the law evolves over time, as does the behavior of our public servants. This month brought a couple examples of the ability of State Courts to set a high threshold of 4th Amendment protection for the citizens they serve.
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Why Aren’t Police Videotaping SWAT Raids?

NorthJersey.com has an impressive piece on the overuse of SWAT teams to conduct routine drug raids in New Jersey. It’s a thorough and informative discussion that includes law-enforcement perspectives as well as those of innocent citizens who’ve been targeted. There’s a lot of revealing stuff here:

“The reporting back is on a case-by-case basis,” said Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Dante Mongiardo. “Nobody is compiling any six-month or yearly reports saying of the 100 (warrants) that we approved, drugs were found in 98 percent of them.”

Capt. Robert Prause, commander of the Prosecutor’s Office narcotics task force, stresses that officers are “not just randomly picking the house.”

“A very large percentage of the time, we do find the contraband we’re looking for,” he said.

So they don’t keep track, but if they did, the numbers would be impressive according to them. I think it’s time for somebody to actually start compiling “six-month or yearly reports saying of the 100 (warrants) that we approved, drugs were found in [X] percent of them.” Then we’d have a better sense of how often things like this happen:

In December 2005, officers with the Paterson police narcotics bureau had a warrant to look for drugs in the brown house. But before dawn, they burst into the DeCree/Clancy house instead. DeCree, 37, said he heard officers outside his closed bedroom door tell him they’d shoot him and his barking dog.

“They was nasty, making comments like they’re police, they can do whatever they want, go call your mayor, your councilman,” said DeCree. “I felt violated because I wanted to protect my family. All I wanted to do was physically put them out of my house.”

Contrast DeCree’s claim with this statement from Sheriff’s Department spokesman Bill Maer in regards to an excessive force allegation from a different raid:

“Those allegations are ridiculous,” Maer said. “I think the report speaks for itself. There has been no official complaint regarding any incident that occurred to the Sheriff’s Department, or to the best of my knowledge, any other agency. So we don’t consider any complaints or even accounts of that story as credible.”

So if you don’t file a formal complaint, they don’t consider you credible. But according to victims of these raids, they tell you it’s pointless to complain!

I think this pretty much says it all:

Unlike in many states, in New Jersey, nearly every document generated by a raid — from the testimony that officers present to a judge to obtain a search warrant, to search warrants themselves, to the police reports detailing whether police found illegal drugs or weapons – is not public, even after the raid is executed. Most of the two dozen people interviewed spoke only on the condition that they would not be named, saying they feared officers would retaliate against family members or simply return to harass them.

The increase in paramilitary policing excesses, coupled with excellent reporting from Radley Balko and a few local papers, is finally beginning to bring some light to this growing threat to public safety. Still, as long as citizens are too intimidated to come forward, it will remain difficult to articulate the magnitude of the problem.

My favorite among Balko’s recommendations for reducing the harms associated with paramilitary police raids is that officers videotape all home invasions as a matter of routine. There’s an obvious mutual benefit to this in that citizens would enjoy an added safeguard, while police would be shielded from erroneous complaints.

Unfortunately, since police are rarely sanctioned for mistakes and misconduct during SWAT raids, they have little incentive to keep records whose most likely effect is to incriminate the officers themselves.

Of Course, if they’re not hiding anything, why should they worry?

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An Offer For Barry Cooper

I propose the following addendums to Barry Cooper’s advice regarding consent searches in Never Get Busted Again Vol. 1: Traffic Stops. This information is intended to help those who have private items that aren’t well hidden, who are concerned that passengers may have stashed unknown items, or who have nothing to hide and wish to protect their 4th Amendment rights. I urge Barry Cooper to disseminate this information via his email list.

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Barry Cooper Says Consent to Searches

Flex Your Rights has eagerly anticipated Barry Cooper’s new video Never Get Busted Again: Vol.1 Traffic Stops, which finally arrived yesterday. After reviewing Cooper’s DVD, we’re disappointed to report that Never Get Busted badly misses the mark regarding consent searches.

We hope the following will not be interpreted as a rebuke of Cooper or his video, much of which we enjoyed. Still, we find it necessary to comment at length on his surprising advice.
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Illinois v. Caballes: Dog Sniffs & You

Illinois v. Caballes
543 U.S. 405 (2005)

In Illinois vs. Caballes, the Supreme Court ruled that police do not need reasonable suspicion to use drug dogs to sniff a vehicle during a legitimate traffic stop.

This decision stems from the case of Roy Caballes, who was pulled over for speeding and subsequently arrested for marijuana trafficking after a drug dog was brought to the scene and alerted on his vehicle. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed his conviction, finding that a drug sniff was unreasonable without evidence of a crime other than speeding.

In a 6-2 ruling, the Court held that the Fourth Amendment is not implicated when police use a dog sniff during the course of a legal traffic stop. Justice Stevens wrote the Opinion of the Court, finding that since dog sniffs only identify the presence of illegal items — in which citizens have no legitimate privacy interest — the Fourth Amendment does not apply to their use. Justices Souter and Ginsburg dissented, pointing to studies showing that drug dogs frequently return false positives (12.5-60% of the time, according to one study).

What this ruling means:

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