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Press Release: New report on racial disparities in traffic stops released

01-15-2014

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Traffic Stop Data Advisory Committee today announced the release of a new report examining racial disparities in traffic stops across the state. The report, which was compiled by the Institute on Race & Justice (IRJ) at Northeastern University, includes preliminary findings of the Highway Safety Traffic Stop Data Collection, Analysis & Reporting Study commissioned in 2010.

The study, which involved the collection and analysis of traffic stop data from 39 police agencies, found in the majority of communities, minorities are more likely to be pulled over than whites for a traffic stop but less likely to receive a citation than their white counterparts. It also found that the most common category of drivers stopped in Rhode Island are white males under 31 years of age who are not residents of the community in which the stop occurs. The majority of traffic stops are made for a violation of traffic laws (96 percent) most often, speeding.

"The advisory committee worked tirelessly to produce this report with the hope that it will be useful to law enforcement agencies as well as to the community," said RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis. "RIDOT was fortunate to receive the funding to conduct this study and to prepare this report, but the real credit goes to the committee for their ongoing efforts to address this important topic."

The study, which evaluated stops between January 1, 2013 and September 30, 2013, found that progress has been made since earlier studies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in post-stop searches. But search patterns still reveal that in the majority of Rhode Island communities, minority drivers were more likely to be searched than white drivers. As in many U.S. states, however, searches are a relatively rare occurrence during routine traffic stops in Rhode Island. As a result, only a small number of records were available for analysis.

Stops were evaluated across four measures: stops compared to driving population estimate, stops compared to census data, proportion of drivers who received a citation or warning, and proportion of drivers who were searched. While specific areas of concern within communities were identified, no community was found to have consistently high racial and ethnic disparities across all four areas of analysis. As a result, the report does not draw conclusions about the existence of racial profiling in Rhode Island; rather it identifies potential areas for further examination.

Key recommendations in the report include: Each police department should carefully review the data to identify areas of concern and, where appropriate, compare its results to that of a comparable community in the state.

Police department leadership should share this data with their officers to increase understanding about what the data is indicating about local enforcement activity as well as share it with the community.

The systematic data collection of traffic stops should continue across departments to monitor trends and disparities over time.

More than a decade ago, Rhode Island led the nation by requiring the collection of traffic stop data that would be used to address community concerns around racial profiling and improve relations between residents and law enforcement. Reports were published in 2003 and 2006, respectively. As a result of this earlier work, Rhode Island qualified to receive a $1.18 million grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to conduct this most recent study. The latter included building the infrastructure to support the electronic collection and transmission of data from each agency as well as conducting the analysis and interpretation of the findings.

As part of the 2013 study, an advisory committee consisting of community members, law enforcement, and other stakeholders was convened to provide guidance throughout the project. RIDOT also contracted with IRJ and Ledge Light Technologies to assist with the data collection, transmission, and analysis of the traffic stop data. Thirty-nine police agencies participated in the study which evaluated 153,891 stops.

In November 2013, the advisory committee hosted three public forums to solicit input from the community on preliminary findings of the study; a key recommendation put forth was to extend the timeframe of data collection. While the 2013 report establishes a baseline of activity, the committee agreed that further data collection and evaluation are needed given the study's limited collection period. A plan is currently under development to collect additional data and to prepare a final report for release in summer 2014.

A copy of the full 2013 report is available on the RIDOT website at www.dot.ri.gov.

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Contact: Rose Amoros 401-222-1362 x4450

 

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