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Toward a Better Understanding of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Search and Seizure Rates

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 34 Issue: 6 Dated: 2006 Pages: 605-617
Robin S. Engel; Richard Johnson
Date Published
13 pages
This article attempts to provide an alternative explanation for the reoccurring findings of racial and ethnic disparities in searches and seizures.
It was suggested that many of the clues of criminal activity used in law enforcement training were inaccurate predictors of deception and suspiciousness. In addition, many of these clues were not racially neutral. Therefore, it was likely that officers who utilize these clues were more likely to inaccurately predict criminal behavior. They were also more likely to inaccurately predict criminal behavior for African-Americans and Hispanics compared to Whites. Recent studies demonstrated a consistent research finding that compared to White motorists, African-American and Hispanic motorists were significantly more likely to be subjected to personal and/or vehicle searches during traffic stops, but less likely to be found in possession of contraband. The explanations for these findings were typically based on speculation regarding officers’ racial animus, bias, and discrimination. The use of searches during traffic stops remains a critical and effective tool for criminal interdiction purposes. However, in order to increase citizens’ perceptions of legitimacy and fairness of the police, law enforcement officials may need to reconsider their policies on discretionary searches. This article reviews literature from other academic disciplines regarding cues of deception and/or suspicious behavior and compares it with actual criminal interdiction training commonly provided to law enforcement personnel. This was done in order to examine an alternative explanation for racial/ethnic disparities in search and seizure rates. Tables, references