Driver Race, Ethnicity, and Gender and Citizen Reports of Vehicle Searches by Police and Vehicle Search Hits: Toward a Triangulated Scholarly Understanding
Lundman, Richard J., Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
The debate over race and ethnically targeted vehicle searches by police is currently dominated by two loosely organized and very different coalitions. The first consists of civil rights and social movement organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), professors of law, and investigative journalists. The members of this first coalition firmly oppose race and ethnically targeted vehicle searches by police, and their opposition is grounded in the argument that such searches are illegal and unproductive. (1) The ACLU's report, Driving While Black, is representative of the position of this first coalition:
Racial profiling is based on the premise that most drug offenses are committed by minorities. The premise is factually untrue, but it has nonetheless become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because police look for drugs primarily among African Americans and Latinos, they find a disproportionate number of them with contraband. Therefore, more minorities are arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and jailed, thus reinforcing the perception that drug trafficking is primarily a minority activity.... [W]hite drivers receive far less police attention, many of the drug dealers and possessors among them go unapprehended, and the perception that whites commit fewer drug offenses than minorities is perpetuated. (2)
The second coalition is composed of police administrators and officers and some of them openly support race and ethnically targeted vehicle searches by police. (3) Their support is firmly grounded in the argument that such searches are more likely to yield hits in the form of illegal evidence, especially drugs. Consider three illustrations: first, prior to being fired for trying to defend racial profiling, the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, Carl Williams, stated: "Today, with this drug problem, the drug problem is cocaine or marijuana. It is most likely a minority group that's involved with it." Second, Bernard Parks, Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1997 to 2002, observed: "It's not the fault of police.... It's the fault of minority males for committing the crime. In my mind it is not a great revelation that if officers are looking for criminal activity, they're going to look at the kind of people who are listed on crime reports." Third, the words of an experienced Maryland State Police Officer working Route 50 between Washington, DC and the Eastern Shore:
Ask me how many white people I've arrested for cocaine smuggling .... None! Zero! I debrief hundreds of black smugglers, and I ask them, "Why don't you hire white guys to deliver your drugs?" They just laugh at me. "We ain't gonna trust our drugs with white boys." That's what they say.... I dream at night about arresting white people for cocaine. I do. I try to think of innovative ways to arrest white males. But the reality is different. (4)
With several important ongoing and hence preliminary exceptions detailed below, social science scholars have not been a visible and central part of the debate over race and ethnically targeted vehicle searches by police. Only a handful of published scholarly papers currently exist and most of them have been written by professors of law, appeared in law review journals, and been directed nearly exclusively at the constitutionality of race and ethnically targeted vehicle stops and searches. (5) Scholars in social science disciplines that have traditionally undertaken research on police and policing, such as criminal justice, criminology, and sociology, have not as yet published formal scholarly papers on vehicle searches and vehicle search hits.
There are, however, several important ongoing and therefore preliminary exceptions to the general absence of social science examination of vehicle searches and vehicle search hits. …