Locally, the number of consent searches conducted by the Austin Police Department declined considerably in 2004 from 2,141 in 2003 to just 804 in 2004, or just 7% of the total number of searches. But the report notes that blacks and Latinos are still more than three times as likely as whites to be subjected to consent searches of the 177,741 drivers stopped in 2004, 1.4% of blacks were subjected to consent search, compared to .76% of Latino drivers and .31% of white drivers. The TCJC also reports that consent searches comprised 10.9% of all searches conducted by Travis Co. Sheriff's Office deputies in 2004, and that blacks were .8 times more likely, and Latinos 2.9 times more likely, to be subjected to consent search than were whites. (In the three-county area Travis, Williamson, and Hays counties the TCJC reports that, by far, the Georgetown Police Department conducted the most consent searches, with 36.5% of all searches conducted by consent.)
In all, the TCJC is again recommending that law enforcement agencies either do away with consent searches altogether indeed, the so-called hit rate for these searches, or the number of times that a consent search yields contraband drugs or weapons, is woefully small (in 2004, APD reported a 12% hit rate) or require officers to obtain written and/or recorded consent from drivers prior to conducting a consent search. The APD already requires officers to get written consent, which police officials have said accounts for the marked decline in the number of consent searches conducted each year (in 2004, the number dropped by more than 60%).
While a legislative proposal (SB 1195) to require written consent earned bipartisan support in the Legislature in 2005, Gov. Rick Perry ultimately vetoed it with the puzzling notation that there was "insufficient information available" for him to determine whether the measure would place "too onerous" a burden on law enforcement or would actually "provide additional protections" to the public. Still, the TCJC insists once again, based now on three years worth of data, that lawmakers revisit the subject. "Over-searching practices divert resources from crime-fighting tasks that improve public safety," reads the report. "Consent searches in particular rarely uncover wrongdoing and are more likely to target minorities. Police management, community leaders, and policy-makers should more closely examine officers' overall routines and encourage more efficient, bias-free, and cost-effective use of their time by limiting consent searches." (See the entire report online at www.criminaljusticecoalition.org.)
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