Based on the data that emerges, it’s clear that African-American, Hispanic, and American Indian drivers are in fact being stopped more than one would expect based on their overall representation in the driving population. But the 2008 study also concludes that inferring from this that there is police bias is “problematic because [it] assume[s] that an officer knows the race of the driver before they make the stop. Very often, particularly at night, and when the vehicles are driving quickly, this is not the case”.
Regarding “consent searches” – instances where the police ask permission to search a car and therefore clearly know the race of the driver before they ask permission – and the number of such searches resulting in the discovery of contraband:
An African-American driver is about three times as likely to be the subject of a search as a Caucasian driver, with a Hispanic driver 2.4 times as likely to be the subject of a search. But when vehicles are searched, whites are more often found to be hiding contraband. Police found contraband 24.37 percent of the time when a white agreed to a search, but just 15.14 percent of the time with a minority driver. This finding is consistent with other studies nationwide. … One explanation for the disparity in consent searches may simply be that “whites are more tuned in to their constitutional rights, so they decline more often”.
So perhaps the fact that black drivers have their cars searched more often isn’t necessarily a sign of racism – whites may indeed be more likely to refuse to be searched. But the fact that whites are more likely to hide contraband should incite the police to search – or try to search – the cars of whites more often, and that doesn’t seem to happen. Why not? Well… If it’s not racism, then perhaps it’s a lack of interest in contraband.
More on racial profiling.