Police Contact With The Public

Analysis of an LAPD report documenting traffic stop data between July 1 and November 30, 2002 reveals that 99% of drivers stopped by police in Los Angeles consented to officers' search requests. The report also shows that 7.4% of African American drivers and 5.3% of Hispanic drivers stopped by police were asked for permission to be searched, while only 1.5% of white drivers were asked for consent to search.
Source: "POSTING MOTOR VEHICLE AND PEDESTRIAN STOP DATA", Los Angeles Police Department, 2002

The following statistics come from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics report, Contacts between Police and the Public (February, 2001):

  • An estimated 43.8 million people age 16 years or older, or about 21% of the population in that age group, had at least one face-to-face contact with the police during 1999. About 52% of these interactions were during traffic stops.
  • About 19.3 million drivers, or about 10.3% of licensed drivers, were stopped by police. Among those, about 1.3 million motorists said they or their vehicle had been searched, and in almost 90% of those searches, police found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
  • Of the 1.3 million searches of motorists, the likelihood of police finding criminal evidence was not significantly different between the 845,000 searches without consent (12.9%) and the 427,000 searches with consent (14.2%).
  • During a traffic stop, police were nearly twice as likely to carry out some type of search on an African-American (11.0%) or Hispanic (11.3%) than a white motorist (5.4%).
  • Searches of white drivers or their vehicles were more than twice as likely to find evidence of criminal activity (17%) than searches of black drivers (8%).
  • Of the nearly 1.3 million drivers who experienced either a vehicle search, a driver search, or both, about 66% did not feel it was for a legitimate reason.
  • Persons age 18 to 19 had a per capita rate of contact arising from a motor vehicle stop of 225 per 1,000, which is more than four times the rate of traffic stops experienced by those ages 50 or older.

Limitation of the survey's search data: Because the survey only asked drivers about any searches that the police may have conducted during a traffic stop, it does not provide data showing the number of traffic stops in which a driver had refused an officer's request to conduct a search and no search was made. Consequently, the survey cannot estimate: (1) how often a driver refused a request to conduct a search; (2) the likelihood of police conducting a search after the driver denied permission; or (3) the likelihood of a driver giving consent.