Police Are Not Going to Build Trust Until They Deal With This!

100 Million Police Stops: New Evidence of Racial Bias

“Fix this, or forget about being trusted by a significant number of your citizens.”

Stanford researchers found that black and Latino drivers were stopped more often than white drivers, based on less evidence of wrongdoing.

NBC News reporter Erik Ortiz posted an article yesterday (March 13, 2019) about this report and our continuing controversy over racially-biased traffic stops by police. It is a continuing argument that can be summed up by police denying and most people of color affirming that this certainly fits into their experience with police.

But let me say this: If police are going to rebuild/build trust with their communities of color (which in many cities is about 40% or more of their “business”) they need to address this issue straight on. Police in a given community must be able to show that they are not acting in a biased manner. Simply said, fix this, or forget about being trusted by a significant number of your citizens.

Here’s an excerpt from the NBC news report:

“Now researchers have compiled the most comprehensive evidence to date suggesting there is a pattern of racial disparities in traffic stops. The researchers provided NBC News with the traffic-stop data — the largest such dataset ever collected — which points to pervasive inequality in how police decide to stop and search white and minority drivers.

“Using information obtained through public record requests, the Stanford Open Policing Project examined almost 100 million traffic stops conducted from 2011 to 2017 across 21 state patrol agencies, including California, Illinois, New York and Texas, and 29 municipal police departments, including New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Paul, Minnesota.

The results show that police stopped and searched black and Latino drivers on the basis of less evidence than used in stopping white drivers, who are searched less often but are more likely to be found with illegal items.

“The study does not set out to conclude whether officers knowingly engaged in racial discrimination, but uses a more nuanced analysis of traffic stop data to infer that race is a factor when people are pulled over — and that it’s occurring across the country…

“The Stanford study sliced the data in three distinct ways to search for evidence of racial bias:

  • Police stops: A ‘veil of darkness’ test was done to analyze whether black drivers are being pulled over at a higher rate during the day than at night, when officers would have a harder time distinguishing race from a distance. After adjusting for the variation in sunset times across the year, researchers found a 5 to 10 percent drop in the share of stopped drivers after sunset who are black, suggesting black drivers are being racially profiled during the day.
  • Police searches: Researchers reviewed the rate at which drivers were searched and the likelihood that those searches turned up illegal drugs and guns. There was evidence that the bar for searching black and Latino drivers is lower than that for white drivers, even though white drivers were more likely to have contraband. Across states, contraband was found in 36 percent of searches of white drivers, compared to 32 percent for black drivers and 26 percent for Latinos.
  • Impact of marijuana legalization: After the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state, there has been a reduction in searches of both white and minority drivers. But the search rate remains twice as high for minorities, a trend also noted in a 2017 Stanford study.”

I can’t help but thinking that this is a continuation of Jim Crow policing that we have not been able to overcome since we abolished slavery. What do you think?

6 Comments

  1. Well…another example of the shallow thinking and bias regarding the driving while black issue.
    These studies all seem to suffer from a profound methodological flaw, the analysis is based upon the “assumption” that offending rates do not vary by race.

    This may in fact be the case, but when you are putting forth a conclusion based upon differences between racial groups you, as the researcher, need to prove it. You can not get there by comparing racially segregated traffic stop date to demographic differences in various geographic areas, such as New Jersey. In order to determine if people are being treated differently by law enforcement officers based upon their race you need to know the racial differences that exist among offenders, just assuming that the offending rates are similar is not enough.

    Here is an article speaking to a study that did just that, although not perfectly.

    This methodology first discovered that offending rates for speeding on the New Jersey highways did, in fact, vary by race. Then researchers compared that variation with the variation in traffic stop data by race. The results were profound. ‘People who are being stopped are being stopped because of the way they’re operating their vehicles, not because of their race,’

    This study was done in 2002 and offers an opposing point-of-view on the prevailing narrative. Be that as it may, this is a complex issue. If you really want to know whether or not racial profiling is occurring in your community, hop in the car with an officer and see for yourself what they deal with.

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    1. Nevertheless, is this not a “problem” which needs some fixing? If poor people are driving badly, is there not a better way for police to respond than the use of onerous monetary fines? If we truly used Goldstein’s method of problem solving I suggest we would find responses other than imposing fines on poor people who simply cannot pay them and thus become captives of the system. One simple solution would be that such a fine be based on one’s income. In the meantime, I find that arguing the rightness of police activities in stopping people of color is not going to solve the problem that most people of color feel that police are biased toward them. It may be helpful if every person of color would step up and engage in a “ride-along,” but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I will continue to maintain that this is a problem desperately in need of fixing, How do you approach a statistically significant finding regarding the lack of trust between blacks and whites in your classroom with those who wish to become police officers? Do you think it is a problem in need of a solution?

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  2. Buy the way, I am completely in agreement with you on day fines. Monetary sanction should be guided by one’s ability to pay and there should be alternatives for those who get crushed by overwhelming traffic fines and other costs.

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  3. One problem with our police is there is this demographic of people that support the police regardless of the police being right or wrong because they consider it patriotic to do so. I read some troubling comments in an Arkansas Newspaper regarding an officer involved shooting in Little Rock recently. In a nutshell, people who typically have no negative contact with the police seem to believe, based on their comments, that it is OK for the police to shoot people many times, especially poor minorities, if they don’t comply with the police’s orders in a timely fashion; regardless the nature of the interaction.

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    1. One piece of research I recall from years ago was gathered in the U,K. It surveyed how people felt about their police. In true British understatement it revealed that most everyone thought quite well of their police, but those who had actual contact with them did not think so well of them. I suggest that may be the root of our problem… the “quality” (read respectful, honest, compassionate, fair) is most often found in the personal contact when evaluating a “service.”

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  4. You are exactly correct Mr. Baker. Research clearly indicates that people who tend to have a favorable view of the police to begin with are much more generous toward them in their opinions, while those who have a negative opinion of the police will condemn them at any opportunity. The problem is called conformation bias and it is very easy to spot, as in the article here, once one knows what to look for.

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