Activists Wield Search Data to Challenge and Change Police Policy

at the New York Times: “One month after a Latino youth died from a gunshot as he sat handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser here last year, 150 demonstrators converged on Police Headquarters, some shouting “murderers” as baton-wielding officers in riot gear fired tear gas.

The police say the youth shot himself with a hidden gun. But to many residents of this city, which is 40 percent black, the incident fit a pattern of abuse and bias against minorities that includes frequent searches of cars and use of excessive force. In one case, a black female Navy veteran said she was beaten by an officer after telling a friend she was visiting that the friend did not have to let the police search her home.

Yet if it sounds as if Durham might have become a harbinger of Ferguson, Mo. — where the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer led to weeks of protests this summer — things took a very different turn. Rather than relying on demonstrations to force change, a coalition of ministers, lawyers and community and political activists turned instead to numbers. They used an analysis of state data from 2002 to 2013 that showed that the Durham police searched black male motorists at more than twice the rate of white males during stops. Drugs and other illicit materials were found no more often on blacks….

The use of statistics is gaining traction not only in North Carolina, where data on police stops is collected under a 15-year-old law, but in other cities around the country.

Austin, Tex., began requiring written consent for searches without probable cause two years ago, after its independent police monitor reported that whites stopped by the police were searched one in every 28 times, while blacks were searched one in eight times.

In Kalamazoo, Mich., a city-funded study last year found that black drivers were nearly twice as likely to be stopped, and then “much more likely to be asked to exit their vehicle, to be handcuffed, searched and arrested.”

As a result, Jeff Hadley, the public safety chief of Kalamazoo, imposed new rules requiring officers to explain to supervisors what “reasonable suspicion” they had each time they sought a driver’s consent to a search. Traffic stops have declined 42 percent amid a drop of more than 7 percent in the crime rate, he said.

“It really stops the fishing expeditions,” Chief Hadley said of the new rules. Though the findings demoralized his officers, he said, the reaction from the African-American community stunned him. “I thought they would be up in arms, but they said: ‘You’re not telling us anything we didn’t already know. How can we help?’ ”

The School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a new manual for defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges, with a chapter that shows how stop and search data can be used by the defense to raise challenges in cases where race may have played a role…”