Police Monitor Report Leads to Search Policy Changes

APD officers will be required to get written consent for searches

Police Monitor Margo Frasier
Police Monitor Margo Frasier (Photo by John Anderson)

Beginning next month, any time Austin Police officers ask for consent to search an individual during a stop – traffic, cyclist, or pedestrian – they will be required to get not only audio and video of the consent, but also written consent, after explaining that the person has the right to refuse the search, APD Chief Art Acevedo said last week.

The announcement came during a press conference attended by both the chief and Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier, during which Frasier discussed the findings contained in her office's annual report.

According to the report, during traffic stops, one out of every eight African-Americans last year was subject to a search, a rate that far outpaced the number of searches of white drivers, which was one in 28, according to the PM's report. Despite that disparity, there was no greater likelihood that contraband would be found on black drivers, Frasier reports. Indeed, the "hit rate" for searches of white, Hispanic, and black drivers was roughly 20%, or one in five, reads the report.

While there are different reasons for searches – an arrest, for example, or probable cause – consent searches can occur when an officer has no legal obligation to search but simply asks for permission to do so. Keeping a close eye on such searches is an important part of ensuring that no "stereotyping or profiling or fishing" is going on, Acevedo said, and he wants to be sure that residents "understand their rights." In this way, citizens play a key role as the "eyes and ears not just for the police department but for the community" at large, he said.

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