APD amends search policy to gain public trust

David Maly

Beginning next month, stops and searches performed by the Austin Police Department will be pointedly different than they have been in the past.

APD will now be required to obtain additional means of consent when performing a consensual search. Beginning next month, during all traffic, cyclist and pedestrian stops, police officers will now be required to obtain audio, video and written consent for the search after explaining that the individual has the right to decline, Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier said. The University of Texas Police Department will not be changing its search consent policy, which only requires verbal consent.

APD decided to amend its policy following the release of two separate reports by the Austin Office of the Police Monitor, which works to inform citizens about police policies and procedures. The report demonstrated significantly higher rates of consent searches during a traffic stop for minority groups.

Frasier said the change in policy comes after discussions with city officials about increasing public trust in APD. The 2011 Police Monitor Report for the APD shows Caucasians being searched at a rate of one in 28, Hispanics at a rate of one in 10 and African Americans at a rate of one in eight.

“It was a discussion between myself and the chief about the fact that there continues to be mistrust of the police department and a lot of people questioning whether searches for minority members are out of whack with those for Caucasians,” she said. “African Americans file 37 percent of all formal complaints when they only make up 7.5 percent of the population. The question becomes ‘why?’”

Similar 2010 UTPD statistics, however, show no statistically significant disparity between the rate of consent searches across various racial groups, UTPD Captain Don Verett said.

The 2010 UTPD Demographic Report shows Caucasians and Hispanics receiving consent searches during traffic stops at a rate of one in 20 and African Americans at a rate of one in 26.

Kelechi Ibezim, biochemistry senior and president of the UT Black Health Professions Organization, said the APD statistics did not surprise her at all.

Ibezim said she thinks minority groups are often unfairly targeted by the police, and the new requirement is fair and will have a positive effect on the number of searches being done.

“I feel like by getting their consent in these ways, it will improve the situation, and I feel that it will decrease the number of minorities being searched,” she said.

Frasier said if an individual believes they are being unjustly pressured by a police officer to allow for a consent search, they should respectfully say ‘no’ to the search and ask that a supervisor be immediately called.

“I believe most issues would end there,” she said.

If an individual feels an unjust search has been performed, Frasier said he or she has the right to file a complaint with the Office of the Police Monitor and pursue civil litigation.

“My message to people is, you have the right to not subject yourself,” Frasier said.