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Illinois State Police Racial Bias: New Studies Show Trend Of Discrimination Continued Last Year

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A new set of data from the University of Illinois at Chicago confirms a pattern of racial bias in traffic stops that has focused scrutiny on the Illinois State Police.

The new report [PDF] shows that a trend seen throughout the last decade continued in 2010, as African-American and Latino drivers were significantly more likely to be subject to so-called "consent searches" than white drivers.

That trend persisted even though white drivers are consistently more likely to be found with contraband in their cars.

A consent search takes place when an officer stops a car and doesn't have probable cause to search it. He can, if he has a hunch, ask the driver for consent to look through the car anyway. Constitutionally, the driver has the right to refuse such a search, but only around 5 percent of drivers do, which the American Civil Liberties Union says owes to the coercive nature of the trooper-driver interaction.

What the racial data suggests, the ACLU argues in a complaint filed with the United States Department of Justice last month, is that officers' "hunches" tend to point them overwhelmingly toward minority drivers.

In 2010, the new report shows, black drivers were 2.96 times more likely than white drivers to be asked for a consent search, while Latino drivers were 3.38 times more likely. But white drivers were actually found with contraband more than both Latino and African American motorists.

Those numbers are consistent with data dating back to 2003, when racial data about searches first began being kept.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced the week after the ACLU's federal complaint that he would begin an internal inquiry, though the civil-rights organization continues to demand outside investigators. The ISP, it argues, is dismissing the numbers as trivial outliers.

"One piece of data may very well be a factoid, of some but not determinative significance," Harvey Grossman, legal director at ACLU Illinois, told The Huffington Post in an interview in June. "This is a practice and pattern. This is every year for six years now."

Make it seven.