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by Peter Moskos

October 30, 2015

Do you mind if I search your black car I mean car?

It's not so much that blacks are more likely to get stopped while driving, it's that blacks get searched much more than whites after a car stop. This has been documented for at least 20 years. I'm a bit surprised it's still happening at this level. It was a big issue after the bullshit "drug courier" profiling scandals in the late 1990s in Maryland and New Jersey. I sort of thought it faded away. Silly me

10 comments:

campbell said...

I don't think it's real surprising, especially considering the data is coming from state police agencies. I bet a lot of these searches are "inventories" on a vehicle impound for suspended DL, no insurance, expired, and/or revoked registration, etc. Small warrants and the things I just mentioned are the easy way into a car. If you're looking to get stats then blacks by way of the poverty thing are much more likely to get you an easy way into that car.

Peter Moskos said...

I'm not 100% sure, but I'm pretty these stats are "consent" search only and not "inventories."

campbell said...

Page 10 of that BJS paper they link has a 60/40 split on consent vs non consent.

But it still ties back into the things I've mentioned above. It's easier to get consent from someone who is at your mercy because of no DL or a small warrant. They're hoping to walk away and keep their car so they give consent. And from a police perspective it's more efficient if my goal is felony arrests. If I get consent I can just send that guy on his way if I don't find anything and go on to my next stop. If I automatically go for the impound or small warrant arrest I'm tying myself up on impound and a trip to jail whether I find anything in the car or not.

Peter Moskos said...

Thanks. Interesting. And too bad they don't break that down by race. But it's still not clear of those non-consent are inventory. I'm still guessing not. But I don't know.

Peter Moskos said...

And part of the reason I'm guessing those don't count is that they're not technically searches. But who knows how they're categorized?

campbell said...

I would guess a lot of those non consents are inventory because the Supreme Court has dialed back what you can do in a car as incident to arrest and seeing as these are State police I would think most of their impounds are going to be DUI, no DL, warrants, no insurance, or no registration. All of those are inventory, not search incident to arrest. Only things like plain view drugs, weapons, weapon on a Terry Frisk, etc are going to get you incident to arrest searches on a car and with state police I bet those are a small number relative to the above.

Peter Moskos said...

I wonder. And it certainly matters because a higher level or arrests based on outstanding warrants linked to poverty (FTA, license issues, etc) could explain away the racial disparity in searches. And also the lower hit rate. It seems like a very important variable to tease out.

campbell said...

It's why quoata type policing is particularly hard on the poor which often means blacks. Give me a minimum and I know where I'll find it. I'm not getting into many cars in the areas where everyone has a properly registered car, valid DL, no warrants, etc. But in a different neighborhood half the cars I pull over are going to give me a reason to get in them somehow.

Adam said...

An inventory search is not a "search" for Fourth Amendment purposes, but I don't think the report gets that specific. It seems all the data are derived from surveys. The bottom of every chart says "Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, Police-Public Contact Survey, 2011." This appears to be the survey, and it simply asks, for example, whether the officer "conduct[ed] a vehicle search." (See Question 65a). So anybody whose car was inventoried after an arrest or vehicle impoundment would say "yes," unless they happened to be a Fourth Amendment scholar. That makes Campbell's point pretty compelling.

I would add that a fair number of roadside searches are probably the result of the cop smelling marijuana. Who's more likely to smoke weed in their cars (as opposed to their homes) -- poor (disproportionately black) people or rich (white) people? Who's more likely to live with mom or grandma, who won't tolerate smoking in the house? Who's more likely to live in an apartment, where a neighbor might call the cops on you? Or in Section 8 housing, where you get kicked out if you're found with drugs? And while "I smell weed" gets a cop a free search, what they're smelling usually isn't a big shipment of marijuana -- it's the residual smell from people smoking in there earlier. That means a lot of these "free" searches uncover nothing, as is the case with inventory searches.

Peter Moskos said...

Where I policed, *most* of the time there was cause to arrest during a car stop. But there was no quota and I didn't arrest, because I had discretion.