In January of 2003, the Illinois legislature mandated that all police departments in the state participate in an effort to track all traffic stops and uncover possible instances of racial profiling by police. A year later the first reports from that study are in the books, and local law enforcement agencies are analyzing the data that’s been collected.
While the Illinois Department of Transportation won’t come out with its first official report until after July 1 and many departments have not compiled complete reports yet, Riverside has released its data, giving a glimpse into what that IDOT report will reveal.
Personnel from Northwestern University’s Center of Public Safety will provide analysis of the data in the IDOT report. Once IDOT receives the report from the university, it will pass those findings along to the governor’s office and the state’s General Assembly.
“I’m confident when the state looks at these numbers they’ll see we’re not racially profiling,” said Chief Eugene Karczewski. “Our policies say in no uncertain terms [how to conduct a traffic stop]. Racial profiling is not only unconstitutional, but it’s also a violation of the law.”
The university set the racial benchmark for each community, based on the minority population of the court district in which the towns are located. For Riverside, which is served by the Fourth Municipal Circuit Court in Maywood, the benchmark is 43.47 percent minority population.
“If they were just going to use the village’s population, then there was just no way we would ever be within the guidelines,” Karczewski said. “When they took our benchmark from the Fourth District, it gave us a better opportunity to fit right in the mainstream.”
Riverside, in a bid to get out in front of the report, issued a detailed assessment of traffic stops during 2003. In addition to breaking traffic stops down by race, the Riverside report is also broken down by gender, violation and searches.
The report, which Riverside has posted online at www.riverside.il.us, shows that officers made 4,692 traffic stops last year, with an 84 percent ticketing or arrest rate. Just under half of all traffic stops were due to speeding.
Of the total number of people pulled over, just over 49 percent were white, 36.6 percent were Hispanic and just under 12 percent were African-American. With other minority groups accounting for just over 2 percent of those stopped by Riverside police, officers stopped minorities just over 50 percent of the time, or about 7 percent above the benchmark assigned by Northwestern University.
However, Riverside police said that Northwestern University didn’t take into account Riverside’s proximity to cities with sizeable minority populations, the number of state highways running along its borders and attractions such as Brookfield Zoo (a portion of which is located within the boundaries of Riverside) that draw thousands to the village each year.
“In addition to the thousands of transient commuters (many of whom do not live in the Fourth District) we are also subject to the hundreds of thousands … of people who use First Avenue to visit the Brookfield Zoo each year,” reads the report issued by the Riverside Police department.
Riverside is bordered on the east by Harlem Avenue, on the west by First Avenue and on the south by Ogden Avenue, all state highways. Its northern boundary, 26th Street is a main artery leading to the North Riverside Park Mall.
In addition, directly to the east of Riverside are two cities with sizeable Hispanic populations, Berwyn (38 percent as of the 2000 census) and Cicero (77 percent). According to the report, “over 95,000 suburban Hispanics [live] within five to 10 minutes of the Riverside border. … We believe the high concentration of Hispanic population in surrounding communities correlates closely with the number of Hispanics utilizing Riverside streets.”
Riverside police highlighted the fact that just 13 percent of all traffic stops led to vehicle searches, and that 503 of those searches were the result of an arrest being made. In the case of DUI arrest or suspended license arrests, searches are made prior to the vehicle being towed.
In terms of the racial makeup of those searched, Riverside police searched vehicles driven by white motorists 8 percent of the time; black motorists 21 percent of the time and Hispanic motorists 24 percent of the time.
While the study has added to the amount of paperwork officers are required to complete, Karczewski said he supports the initiative.
“Perception is reality,” Karczewski said. “If people believe police are stopping minorities without cause, we need to prove to them we’re not.”