Minorities are disproportionately ticketed and searched by police officers in dozens of Massachusetts communities, a state-funded report has found. The Boston Globe says the widest gap in ticketing was in Milton, just south of Boston. Minorities received 58 percent of the traffic tickets there; an estimated 16 percent of the drivers are minorities. In Boston, minorities got 50 percent of tickets; they make up an estimated 33 percent of drivers.
The study was ordered by the state legislature four years ago in response to complaints from minorities. The Northeastern University Institute on Race and Justice examined 1.3 million traffic tickets from April 2001 through June 2003. The results are similar to a Boston Globe examination of traffic tickets last year. Public Safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn must to order communities with disparities to document more information for a year on every traffic stop, even those resulting in an oral warning. Only two departments, Boston and Lowell, collect that information now, voluntarily.
“This report provides a terrific opportunity for police departments to explore what their numbers mean,” Flynn said. Only after a round of public meetings across the state will he decide which places must collect more information.
Milton’s deputy police chief said the study did not take into account the fact that Milton is a shortcut for many drivers from other places. The Northeastern researchers cautioned that traffic tickets cannot identify the motives of police officers. “The goal here is to have police departments and communities discuss whether the level of disparity is explainable,” said Jack McDevitt, director of the Northeastern’s institute.
The study also looked at drivers subjected to a search for drugs or other contraband. The greatest disparity was in the Berkshires city of North Adams, where police searched 9 percent of the whites ticketed, but 19 percent of the minorities ticketed. The Globe reported last January that blacks and Hispanics statewide were 50 percent more likely than whites to be searched during a traffic stop, although whites were more likely, once searched, to be found with drugs.