06/15/2011 03:23 pm ET | Updated Aug 15, 2011

Illinois State Police Racial Bias: Quinn Calls For Inquiry, ISP Denies Claims

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is calling for an internal inquiry into the way the Illinois State Police approach searching drivers, following an ACLU report claiming "dramatic" racial discrimination.

But the ISP is standing its ground on the so-called "consent searches," claiming that "raw data alone cannot fully explain" its officers' actions, and that it maintains a zero tolerance policy relating to bias-based policing.

As Huffington Post Chicago reported last week, ACLU Illinois petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the state cops after analyzing years of public data relating to the searches. They found that minorities were much more likely to be subjected to consent searches, whereas white drivers were more likely to have contraband in their car when searched.

Consent searches are performed when an officer doesn't have probable cause to search a car. He asks the driver if he might look around in the car based on little more than a hunch.

The implication of the data, then, is that officers' "hunches" tend to lead them to search people of color, whereas white drivers are the ones actually holding the contraband.

After six years of data with the same result, the ACLU asked the Dept. of Justice to bar the Illinois State Police from conducting consent searches altogether.

The ISP vehemently objected in a written statement:

Consent searches are a tool recognized and authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court, which are used by the ISP in less than 1% of all traffic stops. In 2009, ISP requested consent from 2 out of every 1,000 motorists stopped. This statistic demonstrates that Troopers, who overall seized 2,069 firearms, over 14,472 pounds of illegal drugs, and arrested thousands of motorists for serious criminal violations, are not abusing the use of consent searches.

The ISP does not promote, condone, or tolerate bias-based policing. The ISP continues to communicate systematically from cadets through supervisors and command the “Zero Tolerance” stance to bias-based policing. The ISP is committed to training, use of video cameras, supervision, and following up on public complaints received. The ISP has implemented significant policy changes aimed at addressing this issue.

Harvey Grossman, the legal director at ACLU Illinois, called the ISP's statement "completely insubstantial and unsatisfying."

The police claim that it used the searches more sparingly than it used to is irrelevant, according to Grossman. "The fact that you do something that’s wrong less often, doesn’t make it right," he said.

As to the Supreme Court's supposed defense of the consent search, Grossman said that the Court has ruled that citizens can give up their constitutional protections from search without probable cause. That's not the issue, he says. Instead, the ACLU is challenging the ISP on 14th Amendment grounds, saying its racial bias violates equal protection.

And the ISP's dismissal of the data as only telling part of the story also didn't make sense to the ACLU. "One piece of data may very well be a factoid, of some but not determinative significance," Grossman said. "This is a practice and pattern. This is every year for six years now."

Governor Quinn's press office was tight-lipped on the issue, saying only that it had asked ISP Director Hiram Grau to look into the matter. Asked whether an internal investigation by the state would suffice, Grossman wasn't sold.

"There absolutely has to be an independent investigation" by the feds, Grossman said. "This discrimination has been going on too long."