Police in Riverside, North Riverside and Brookfield made fewer traffic stops in 2005 compared to 2004, but those stopped were more likely to be issued a citation. That’s according to the Illinois Traffic Stop Study, which was released June 27 by the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety. The study is principally intended to spotlight potential instances of racial profiling by police departments throughout the state.
This is the second year the study has been completed. It is the result of legislation signed in July of 2003 by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. While the 2005 results for Riverside, North Riverside and Brookfield do not indicate an inclination toward racial profiling, they do show that police in those towns made significantly fewer traffic stops last year.
That trend was especially apparent in Riverside, where the number of traffic stops by police fell precipitously, from 4,755 in 2004 to 2,168 in 2005, a drop of 54 percent. Meanwhile, stops in Brookfield fell from 3,921 in 2004 to 3,559 in 2005, and in North Riverside, stops declined from 2,624 in 2004 to 1,956 in 2005.
When the racial profiling survey was mandated in 2003, some felt it might have a “chilling effect” on the way police approached traffic stops. Across the state, police reported 5,000 fewer stops, but that number was not enough, according to the report filed by Northwestern University, to suggest any “chilling effect.”
Riverside Assistant Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said the lower number of stops in 2005 likely reflects a change in patrolling priorities. Instead of focusing traffic enforcement effort on traffic-heavy routes on the village’s borders (Harlem Avenue, Ogden Avenue and First Avenue), Riverside police spent much more time patrolling Riverside’s interior.
“There has been some emphasis put on our officers balancing between patrols of the inner village versus Harlem, First Avenue and Ogden,” Weitzel said. “We’ve moved to where citizens tell us they want us. We’ve had a lot more complaints of stop sign violations, and we have a schedule now where we work specific details every day.”
In North Riverside, where the number of stops fell by 25 percent, Police Chief Anthony Garvey said those numbers could be explained in part by the fact that his department was short two officers for a period of time last year. He said his officers also spend more time responding to service calls and, therefore, have less time for routine patrols.
“We get a lot of calls for service, and we may not have as much time for patrol time as before,” Garvey said.
Despite the lower numbers of traffic stops, officers in all three departments were more likely to write traffic citations in 2005 rather than hand out warnings.
In Riverside, the survey shows 95 percent of white motorists pulled over by police received citations, while 94 percent of minority drivers stopped by police were cited for traffic offenses. Both numbers are up from last year, when Riverside ticketed 82 percent and 86.5 percent of white and minority motorists, respectively.
Numbers were similar in North Riverside. White motorists stopped by police in that village received citations 91.4 percent of the time in 2005, compared to 87.2 percent in 2004. Likewise, the percentage of minority drivers stopped and cited by police rose from 91.1 percent in 2004 to 95.1 percent.
Brookfield, as in 2004, ticketed fewer of the motorists they stopped. However, the numbers of both white and minority motorists ticketed rose in 2005 from 70.3 percent and 74.7 percent, respectively, to 82.2 percent and 84.9 percent.
Both Brookfield and North Riverside police said the higher percentages were not the result of any internal policy regarding stops. Weitzel, on the other hand, said the directive from Police Chief Eugene Karczewski is clear regarding citations.
“No stop should be made where a ticket isn’t issued,” Weitzel said. “If you make a stop and don’t issue a citation, according to state statute, that’s a false stop.”
That directive also affects the number of warnings Riverside police hand out to motorists whom they’ve stopped. Riverside, by far, gives the fewest number of warnings-both written and verbal. While Riverside gave 730 written warnings and 10 verbal warnings in 2004, those numbers fell to 116 and zero, respectively, in 2005.
Meanwhile, the number of written warnings issued by North Riverside police also dropped, from 275 to 129. Verbal warnings dropped from six to zero.
Brookfield still gave more warnings to motorists than either of the other two villages, however, those numbers dipped as well in 2005. After giving 211 written warnings in 2004, Brookfield police handed out just 16 in 2005. However, Brookfield police were much more likely to give verbal warnings. In 2005, Brookfield police issued 592 verbal warnings; in 2004, they issued 906.
Brookfield police were also less likely to stop minority motorists than both Riverside and North Riverside, even though all three villages are considered part of the same district for calculating the percentage of minority motorists. The estimated minority driving population for all three villages is 43.5 percent.
Of the 2,593 stops made by Brookfield police, just 27 percent involved minority motorists. North Riverside police made 1,956 stops in 2005, 53 percent of which involved minority drivers. That ratio (1.24) was slightly higher than the state’s overall ratio of 1.12. In Riverside’s 2,168 stops, 46.40 percent (a ratio of 1.07) involved minorities.
Riverside police in 2005 were again more likely to conduct consent searches, in which officers ask if they can search a vehicle even though no arrest has been made. The 2005 traffic stop survey stated that although consent searches fell in Illinois in 2005, “vehicles of minority drivers are now 2.8 times as likely to be subject to a consent search as those of Caucasian drivers.”
In 2005, Riverside conducted 22 consent searches (14 of them involving white motorists), which is down from 43 conducted in 2004. Brookfield conducted seven consent searches in 2005 (three involving white motorists), down from 12 in 2004.
Meanwhile, the number of consent searches in North Riverside rose from two to four in 2005. In both years, all consent searches have involved minority motorists.
Despite the low total number of consent searches, Garvey said the numbers were enough of a red flag for him to begin an internal review of those searches.
“It’s a very small percent of searches, but it did double, and the state did address in the report that consent searches were an area of concern,” Garvey said, “so it’s one we wanted to take a look at. If it turns out to be one or two officers, we’ll find out what the issue is.”