Austin “Consent Searches” Up As Traffic Stops Decrease


Austin police officers asked nearly the same number of people for permission to search their vehicles or to frisk them last year as they did in 2006, despite conducting thousands fewer traffic and pedestrian stops, reports the Austin American Statesman. Officers conducted 211 “consent searches” during traffic stops in 2007, compared with 205 in 2006. However, the overall number of traffic stops decreased by nearly 19,000 to 178,000. Officers also searched more blacks than whites and Hispanics, but only by a slim margin. “We monitor our stops very carefully,” Assistant Police Chief Al Eells said. “We have put mechanisms in place to make sure our officers are doing the right things for the right reasons.”

The numbers are from an annual report under a 2002 state law that requires all law enforcement agencies to provide a yearly report on racial profiling to their governing agencies. Critics have argued that minorities too often are subjected to consent searches and that police use them to harass suspects. Police leaders said in 2003 they wanted to decrease consent searches by 40 percent over two years in an effort to repair relations with Austin’s minority communities. The number of searches went down by more than 90 percent between 2003 and 2005, even though the number of stops increased. Officers had to document the reason for the searches and get written permission from suspects. Austin police investigated 11 formal complaints of racial profiling in 2007, compared with eight in 2006. The report said no allegation against officers was proved and that each of the cases was captured on patrol car videos.


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