African-American Drivers Make Up 14% of Traffic Stops by Ohio State Highway Patrol, But 28% of Stops Involving Drug-Sniffing Dogs


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While African-Americans made up 14% of traffic stops by the Ohio State Highway Patrol between 2013 and 2017, about in line with state's 13% African-American population, black motorists made up 28% of stops where drug-sniffing dogs were deployed, according to Highway Patrol data compiled at the request of the Associated Press.

The data provides more evidence, as if it were needed, that African-Americans and minorities face a disproportionate amount of law enforcement actions. It backs up findings by the University of North Carolina last year that Ohio police stopped and searched blacks at a far higher rate than whites and a Stanford Open Policing Project that found blacks were subject to searches and arrests more than whites in Ohio from 2010 to 2015.

But, you might say, drug-sniffing dogs are deployed only after probable cause, and that's exactly what Ohio State Highway Patrol spokesperson Lt. Robert Sellers told the AP.

“Drug sniffing canines are deployed based upon the presence of criminal indicators, not race,” he said, citing factors like visible contents of the vehicle, smells, destination and length of trip.

Which is nice in theory, but unfortunately race also tends to be one of the factors based on empirical evidence, despite the fact that the state patrol analyzes traffic stop data to work toward bias-free policing. A recent court case is not only a good example, but at the heart of why the AP requested the data.

In 2014 a Chicago man named Tyrone Warfield was pulled over by a patrol officer for driving outside of his lane. The trooper then tested Warfield for impaired driving (he passed), interrogated him about trafficking untaxed cigarettes, questioned him about dozens of debit and credit cards in the vehicle (he was eventually convicted on a charge of counterfeiting), and brought out a drug-sniffing dog.

A federal appeals court ruling last month kicked the case back to a federal judge who, the AP says, will likely toss out the conviction, and said, "The use of a drug dog — whose only function is to search for illegal drugs — makes this seem less like an investigation into untaxed cigarettes and more like a fishing expedition.”

In this case, "fishing expedition" is shorthand for over-policing.

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