Race Gap Cited in Traffic Searches

By Michael J. Sniffen
Associated Press
Monday, April 30, 2007

Black, Hispanic and white drivers are equally likely to be pulled over by police, but African Americans and Hispanics are much more likely to be searched and arrested, a federal study found.

And police are much more likely to use force against or to threaten to use force against African Americans and Hispanics than against whites, whether in a traffic stop or another encounter, according to the Justice Department.

The study, released yesterday by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, covered police contacts with the public during 2005 and was based on interviews by the Census Bureau with nearly 64,000 people age 16 or over.

"The numbers are very consistent" with those found in a similar study of police-public contacts in 2002, said bureau statistician Matthew R. Durose, a co-author of the report.

Traffic stops are the most frequent way police interact with the public, and minority groups have said that many stops and searches are based on race. Some African Americans allege being pulled over for "driving while black."

"The available data is sketchy but deeply concerning," said Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau. The NAACP has done surveys on traffic stops, and he said the racial disparities grow larger as the studies delve deeper.

"It's very important to look at the hit rates for searches -- the number that actually result in finding a crime," Shelton said. "There's a great deal of racial disparity there."

"This report shows there are still disturbing disparities in terms of what happens to people of color after the stop," said Dennis D. Parker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's racial justice project. He also said better reporting is needed.

This report, like the one for 2002, warns that the racial disparities uncovered "do not constitute proof that police treat people differently along demographic lines." The differences could be explained by circumstances not analyzed by the survey.

Black, Hispanic and white motorists were equally likely to be pulled over by police -- between 8 percent and 9 percent of each group.

The racial disparities showed up after that point:

· African Americans (9.5 percent) and Hispanics (8.8 percent) were much more likely to be searched than whites (3.6 percent).

· African Americans (4.5 percent) were more than twice as likely as whites (2.1 percent) to be arrested. Hispanic drivers were arrested 3.1 percent of the time.

Among all police-public contacts, force was used 1.6 percent of the time. But officers were more likely to use force against or to threaten to use force against African Americans (4.4 percent) and Hispanics (2.3 percent) than against whites (1.2 percent).


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