Activist Says Black Traffic Stops in Urbana are Extreme

Mike Monson, News-Gazette (Champaign, Ill.), August 22, 2006

A community activist argued Monday night that Urbana’s traffic stop report for 2005 shows that blacks are nearly three times as likely to be stopped by police than the black driving population would indicate.

Randall Cotton, 508 E. Clark St., C, said the city’s report shows that blacks are far more likely to be pulled over than whites, or than other minorities.

“The statistics in the IDOT report underrepresent the severity of the problem,” said Cotton, who spoke during public participation. “These numbers seem extreme to me.”

Specifically, Cotton was referring to the fact that blacks made up 33.4 percent of all traffic stops during 2005, but just 12.2 percent the city’s driving population, based on census statistics.

Those figures produce a disparity index of 2.73 for black drivers, meaning blacks are 173 percent more likely to be stopped by police in Urbana than the city’s black driving population would indicate.

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During his presentation, Urbana Police Chief Mike Bily said his department has a written policy prohibiting racial profiling and that officers have recently undergone training about how to avoid the practice.

“I’ve made it very clear, I and the department will not tolerate racial profiling,” he said.

Bily said Urbana police are buying new video and audio equipment that will better enable police supervisors to review traffic stop tapes to make sure racial profiling isn’t going on. He said he expects the purchase this fall.

In high crime areas where police spend more of their time, Bily said, Urbana police will make traffic stops if there are legitimate violations, and that the practice probably results in more minority traffic stops.

Alderman Charlie Smyth, D-Ward 1, said the statistics concerning blacks were troubling.

“That, to me, is what stands out in all of these numbers,” Smyth said. “It hits you between the eyes.”

Alderwoman Danielle Chynoweth, D-Ward 2, made a number of suggestions, including holding a public meeting where people who feel they have been racially profiled would be invited to share their stories. She also suggested that police avoid consent searches, where people consent to their vehicle being searched, as 17 searches last year netted contraband in only two instances.

“Consent searches seem to violate peoples’ sense of privacy,” she said.

During public participation, Aaron Ammons, 1108 N. Busey Ave., U, argued that it is the war on drugs, both locally and nationwide, that is causing racial disparities in traffic stops and filling prisons with blacks.

“You will not find this in the white community,” he said. “You will not be stopped for no rear license light in west Champaign.”

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