Black, Latino Drivers Stopped More Than Whites: Study

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Photo by State Farm. Courtesy Flickr

Three years ago, an unmarked police car followed Richard Jackson into an alley behind his home on Chicago’s West Side and pulled him over.

Jackson, a black Navy veteran, was used to being stopped by police for what he believed was no reason since returning to Illinois from the military in 2012.But this time was different.

After an officer ran his driver’s license, then said he was free to go, Jackson pointedly asked what he had done wrong. The officer, who is white, said Jackson had cut him off, which Jackson denied. The officer then issued Jackson citations for failing to yield at a left turn and stop sign, which Jackson also denied.

Although the officer did not allude to Jackson’s race, the veteran believed that was why he was stopped, reports NBC News. 

Now, Stanford University researchers have compiled the most comprehensive evidence to date suggesting there is a pattern of racial disparities in traffic stops– 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.

“Because of this analysis, we’re able to get to that anecdotal story to say this is really happening,” said Sharad Goel, an assistant professor in management science and engineering at Stanford and a co-author of the study.

Significantly, researchers also 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.

And, although there has been a reduction in searches of both white and minority drivers since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state, the search rate remains twice as high for minorities in the two states, a trend also noted in a 2017 Stanford study.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

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