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Racial profiling by police in Sauk Valley?

Minorities more likely to get tickets

Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

(Continued from Page 2)

If you’re black or Hispanic, you’re more likely to get a ticket during a traffic stop in the Sauk Valley – and in much of the rest of the state.

That’s according to figures provided by police agencies themselves. The trend has continued for years.

But local agencies argue the reports are an imperfect measure.

Lee County Sheriff John Varga said residents should take the racial profiling reports “with a grain of salt.” He said the numbers are too basic and that he would have to go through all of the reports before making a determination.

Since 2004, the state has required agencies to report information about the race of drivers they stop. The reports, mandated by a 2003 state law championed by then-state Sen. Barack Obama, are some of the most comprehensive about racial profiling in the United States.

The reports compare Caucasians to minorities, including blacks and Hispanics.

In 2011, Dixon police cited 39 percent of Caucasians they stopped, with the rest getting warnings. For minorities, 58 percent got tickets.

In Sterling, 30 percent of Caucasians and 37 percent of minorities received citations. Nearly everyone stopped by Rock Falls police got citations in 2011, but in previous years, officers were more likely to cite minorities.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Department cited 42 percent of Caucasians stopped and 51 percent of minorities. For the Whiteside County Sheriff’s Department, 45 percent of Caucasians received tickets, compared with 58 percent of minorities.

In 2011, with the exception of Dixon, blacks were more likely to get tickets than Hispanics.

Statewide, 52 percent of Caucasians received tickets to 61 percent of minorities. Hispanics were slightly more likely than blacks to get citations.

ACLU: Racial profiling exists

Florence Cunningham, a Rock Falls resident who moved to the area in 1979, said racial profiling exists in the Sauk Valley.

“My children have been profiled because they are black and the police think they’re selling dope. They get stopped a lot,” Cunningham said. “Racial profiling happens all around the area.”

In 1963, Cunningham was in Washington for Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

“We have a long way to go from Martin Luther King’s speech.”

Karen Sheley, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the 2003 state law helps root out racial profiling.

“Police forces across America have targeted minority drivers, whether it’s intentional or unintentional,” she said. “That could be a violation of equal protection of the laws.”

Statewide, 1 percent of Caucasians and 1.4 percent of minority drivers consented to allowing police to search their cars. Police found contraband in 26 percent of cars with Caucasian drivers and 20 percent of cars with minority drivers.

“Police officers are more likely to ask minority drivers for consent searches, but they’re less likely to find contraband,” Sheley said.

That, the ACLU contends, is proof that racial profiling exists.

Local police departments conduct few consent searches, so the samples aren’t big enough to determine a trend in the Sauk Valley.

Years ago, state Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, was appointed as a Republican member of the state’s racial profiling oversight board. Gov. Pat Quinn waited a long time before he picked his board members. The group met for the first time in January.

Bivins, a former Lee County sheriff, doubts racial profiling exists as a widespread problem.

“If there’s a problem, it’ll come out,” he said. “If there is bias in a department, the community will realize that. It’s hard to hide.”

‘Legislators made their political point’

Police Chief Danny Langloss pointed to the low percentage of minority drivers stopped in Dixon – only 2.3 percent of the 4,086 stops in 2011, far less than the estimated 17 percent of the minority driving population. Other area agencies, except Sterling, stopped minorities disproportionately more than Caucasians in 2011, but the differences were relatively slight.

As for minorities getting proportionally more tickets, Langloss said he would have to find out what they were cited for. Whether someone gets a ticket, he said, depends on the type of violation.

“Without knowing what they [drivers] were stopped for, it’s hard for me to say.”

Rock Falls Police Chief Mike Kuelper said there are reasons that minorities are more likely to get tickets in the area.

Blacks often come here from Chicago, where residents often get away with driving without licenses, he said. And Hispanics, the chief said, frequently don’t have driver’s licences because they aren’t legal U.S. residents.

“You may stop an African-American four or five times for having no driver’s license,” the chief said. “It’s the same person, but it counts four or five times.”

That could have a big impact on Rock Falls’ numbers; in 2011, the police reported only 24 stops involving blacks.

Sterling Police Chief Ron Potthoff said low-income drivers often have a harder time keeping their cars up to regulation, which may result in violations such as nonworking taillights. That may result in more minorities getting tickets, he said.

Potthoff and Kuelper agree it’s time for the requirement on racial profiling reports to end.

“Legislators made their political point,” Potthoff said. “It costs money to keep these statistics. Officers have to fill out reports specific to this traffic stop study.”

Whiteside County Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi said he doesn’t believe racial profiling exists in the area.

“I do traffic stops myself, but not as many as the guys on the street,” he said. “I can honestly say that in the last year, I stopped one vehicle where a person was a minority.”

Lee County Sheriff Varga said the statistics on minority stops are vague.

“Is it a seat belt ticket? Is it for no insurance?” he said. “I would have to look at the overall reasons for the stop that go with it. It’s hard to give a definite answer.”

The numbers

2011

Here are the percentages of drivers pulled over who got tickets:

Sterling Police

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 30%

Minority drivers ticketed: 37%

Dixon Police

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 39%

Minority drivers ticketed: 58%

Rock Falls Police

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 96%

Minority drivers ticketed: 96%

Whiteside County Sheriff

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 45%

Minority drivers ticketed: 58%

Lee County Sheriff

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 42%

Minority drivers ticketed: 51%

Bureau County Sheriff

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 12%

Minority drivers ticketed: 19%

Carroll County Sheriff

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 69%

Minority drivers ticketed: 79%

Ogle County Sheriff

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 81%

Minority drivers ticketed: 91%

Statewide

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 52%

Minority drivers ticketed: 61%

2010

Here are the percentages of drivers pulled over who got tickets:

Sterling Police

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 42%

Minority drivers ticketed: 47%

Dixon Police

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 38%

Minority drivers ticketed: 59%

Rock Falls Police

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 66%

Minority drivers ticketed: 70%

Whiteside County Sheriff

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 53%

Minority drivers ticketed: 61%

Lee County Sheriff

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 52%

Minority drivers ticketed: 56%

Bureau County Sheriff

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 16%

Minority drivers ticketed: 25%

Carroll County Sheriff

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 72%

Minority drivers ticketed: 60%

Ogle County Sheriff

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 59%

Minority drivers ticketed: 74%

Statewide

Caucasian drivers ticketed: 55%

Minority drivers ticketed: 63%

Online: To view more results from 2004 through 2011, visit www.dot.il.gov/trafficstop/results11.html

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