The Pennsylvania State Police, the nation’s third-largest statewide law enforcement agency, quietly stopped collecting data on the race of drivers stopped by its troopers in 2012, making it far more difficult to detect bias, reports Spotlight PA, a project of major Pennsylvania newspapers.
This week, after being presented with the findings of Spotlight PA’s nationwide survey that showed the force was the largest of 11 statewide law enforcement agencies that do not collect race data during stops, Pennsylvania State Police officials said the agency would reverse course and resume collection next year.
“We do feel that collecting this information would yield valuable statistical information for the department,” said Lt. Col. Scott Price, deputy commissioner of administration and professional responsibility.
When initially asked why data collection was discontinued, a spokesman for the State Police said it was based on studies that found no evidence of racial disparities in traffic stops. One of those studies had, however, identified “racial, ethnic, and gender disparities” in how troopers dealt with motorists after they were stopped.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the state police, alleging troopers were violating the law by stopping and holding people based solely on their Latino appearance.
The failure to collect racial data can “undermine” police legitimacy, commented Georgetown law Prof. Christy Lopez, a former official in the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “It makes it look like you either don’t care about disparities, or you are trying to hide what the data shows.”
See also: Black and White Justice, The Crime Report, Aug. 7, 2019