New Data Indicates Racial Disparities in Traffic Stops Continue Amid Seasonal Variations
by Elizabeth Regan | Sep 23, 2015 3:00pm
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Posted to: Civil Liberties, Equality, Town News, Granby, Groton, Tolland, Waterbury, Law Enforcement, Public Safety, State Capitol, Transportation
Police in Connecticut continued to target black and Hispanic drivers at a disproportionate rate over the past winter in both the number of stops and the likelihood of getting a ticket, according to the latest installment of racial profiling data mandated by the state legislature.
Announced in a news release, the addition of six months of data to the first full year of analysis shows the percentage of minority stops remains at 14 percent for black drivers and 12 percent for Hispanic drivers. White drivers comprise 72 percent of traffic stops. According to the study, Connecticut’s driving population is 84 percent white, 8 percent black, and 10 percent Hispanic.
This means if you are a black or Hispanic driver in Connecticut, you are more likely to get stopped by police. The data also shows that black and hispanic drivers are more than twice as likely to have their vehicle searched.
The new data builds upon the study of nearly 620,000 traffic stops made by 102 law enforcement agencies in the 12 month span from October 2013 to September 2014, bringing the total number of stops to 857,305.
The data was compiled by researchers at Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy as a result of a state law requiring traffic stop data to be collected and analyzed.
Ken Barone, a research and policy specialist and one of the authors of the initial study, said a full analysis incorporating the the second year of data won’t be released until January.
But the online data portal did include a brief, graphical comparison of how likely a driver is to receive a ticket versus a warning. Twelve-month data showed the highest ticket-to-warning ratio was among Hispanic drivers, at 62 percent, followed by black drivers, at 55 percent. White drivers received tickets 52 percent of the time, while Indian American drivers came in at 51 percent.
That changed in the six-month period comprising this past fall and winter, when Indian Americans received tickets 60 percent of the time. Hispanics experienced a decrease with 58 percent of stops resulting in a ticket compared to 51 percent for black drivers and 47 percent for white drivers.
The six-month data also showed that black and Hispanic motorists were at least twice as likely as a white motorist to be subjected to a consensual search, though the stops of white drivers were more likely to yield contraband.
Barone said seasonal variations in New England have a significant effect on traffic stop data, which is one of the reasons his organization is not releasing a detailed analysis until the full second year of data is collected.
The report released in April cited five police departments as those with the most significant racial disparities in traffic stops: Granby, Groton (town department), Waterbury, and the state police barracks in Hartford and Tolland.
New information on the website that’s been designed to make the complex data easier to understand explained that the Waterbury Police Department was added to the watch list after efforts were made to compensate for potential bias in the form of motor vehicle equipment violations, such as headlights.
“In an effort to check for this, the researchers excluded equipment violation traffic stops assuming police officers are pulling motorists over due to a violation and would conceivably not be profiling based on race/ethnicity,” researchers wrote on the website. “For example, if minorities are more likely to have equipment violations the results would show evidence of racial bias when in fact it might not exist.”
By taking out the equipment violation data, there was still evidence of racial disparity among several minority groups, but researchers said the small sample size affects the reliability of the data.
Granby, too, presented a small sample size, according to the research — “so it will interesting to see if a disparity still persists as more traffic stop data are collected.”
Barone said researchers are moving toward the quarterly release of data so the public has access to new information between annual reports.