DOJ: Suspect’s Race Affects Likelihood of Search and Arrest in Traffic Stops

According to a new study by the U.S. Department of Justice, black and Hispanic drivers are far more likely to be searched and arrested following a traffic stop than white drivers. The same report also indicated that police are more likely to use force against blacks and Hispanics.

The report, called “Contacts between Police and the Public, 2005,” was conducted by the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. The study says that nearly 18 million drivers had direct contact with police after traffic stops in 2005, or almost 9 percent of all drivers in the United States. Of that total number of traffic stops, about 5 percent resulted in subsequent vehicle searches. The report found that 9.5 percent of blacks and 8.8 percent of Hispanics who were pulled over faced searches, compared to only 3.6 percent of white motorists who were stopped. (More that 40 percent of these searches were conducted without the driver’s consent.) In addition, 4.5 percent of black motorists and 3.1 percent of Hispanic drivers were subsequently arrested after traffic stops, compared with only 2.1 percent of white drivers.

Interestingly enough, however, the report makes the claim that members of each of those groups were pulled over at approximately the same rates. What’s more, the DOJ refused to concede that the disparity in searchers and arrests had any significance in terms of unfair treatment. “While the survey found that black and Hispanic drivers were more likely than whites to be searched, such racial disparities do not necessarily demonstrate that police treat people differently based on race or other demographic characteristics,” the Justice Department explained. “This study did not take into account other factors that might explain these disparities.”

Overall, statistics show that 43.5 million U.S. residents (or about 19 percent) had “face-to-face contacts” with police in 2005. Of that total group, about 1.6 percent claimed the police used force against them or threatened them during their most recent contact. Once again, a racial disparity was seen when investigating those numbers: 4.4 percent of blacks and 2.3 percent of Hispanics said the police used or threatened force, compared to only 1.2 percent of whites. Plus, 80 percent of these respondents claimed that the force used by law enforcement was excessive.

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