MSU study reveals racial disparities in state police traffic stops

The Michigan State Police Director said he would equip 1,600 soldiers with body-worn cameras as part of a five-point plan to address racial disparities in traffic stops identified in a one-year study published Wednesday.

The study, “Michigan State Police Traffic Stop External Benchmarking,” was conducted by Michigan State University and commissioned by State Police Col. Joseph Gasper in September 2020 after internal MSP data was released. showed a potential disparity in the ethnicity of citizens who were arrested for traffic violations. .

The study, which was published three months after being completed in October 2021, showed “racial and ethnic disparities in the frequency and results of roadside checks by MSP soldiers,” Gasper told a conference virtual press.

Researchers looked at traffic stops in 2020 and found that, based on population data, African Americans were more likely to be stopped by state soldiers, while Hispanic and Asian drivers were were less likely to be arrested.

Blacks make up 13.6% of Michigan’s population, but made up 22.1% of traffic stops in 2020, according to the report. Hispanics, 5.1% of the state’s population, accounted for 2.3% of stops, while Asians, 3.1% of the population, were arrested 0.7% of the time.

The study also looked at nighttime traffic stops using the “available darkness method, which assumes that it is more difficult for a police officer to determine a driver’s race when he is driving. black, ”said Michigan State University criminal justice professor Scott Wolfe, author of the study.

“Stops made during the day were much more likely to involve African American drivers than those that occurred during darkness,” a study summary said. “However, after accounting for potential seasonal variations in the nature of traffic stops or the makeup of drivers on the road, daylight no longer predicted whether a driver involved in a traffic stop was African American.”

Although Gasper said the cause of the disparity was unclear, he said he was launching a plan to address it. The plan includes hiring an independent expert to review MSP policies; establish a statewide “listening and engaging effort … in communities of color”; make traffic stop data available to soldiers via an internal dashboard; and the creation of a professional development office for other implicit biases and other training.

Gasper said the fifth tier will be to equip all soldiers who may come into contact with the public with body-worn cameras. He said about 250 troops currently have the cameras and he hopes to deploy 1,600 more by the end of the year. Gasper was asked at the press conference about the cost of the cameras but did not respond.

The study also found that “African-American drivers were significantly more likely than white drivers to be searched or pulled over after traffic stops. There was mixed evidence as to whether they were less likely to receive a quote as white drivers, “the summary says.

“Hispanic drivers were significantly more likely than white drivers to be searched or

stopped after traffic stops, (while) Asian drivers were significantly less likely to be searched or stopped compared to white drivers, ”the summary states. “However, they were significantly more likely to receive a citation than white drivers (and less likely to receive a warning).”

Reverend Wendell Anthony, director of the Detroit branch NAACP, was not involved in the press conference but watched it online and praised Gasper for voluntarily commissioning the study – but he said the soldiers had to also be held accountable.

“Having responsibilities without being accountable is a futile exercise,” said Anthony. “There must be accountability for officers who abuse our trust and violate their oath.”

The study separately examined roadside checks carried out in the 11 cities that make up the Secure Cities Partnership, a program in which state police provide additional support to local police patrols, as these communities have a higher percentage. of non-white residents.

Cities involved in the program include Benton Harbor, Detroit, Flint, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, Highland Park, Inkster, Lansing, Muskegon Heights, Pontiac and Saginaw, although a majority of SCP stops have taken place in Flint (38, 8% of stops) and Saginaw (23.1%).

Almost 77% of all roadside checks carried out in these towns by soldiers involved a black driver, compared to 22.1% statewide. The study authors said African-American drivers were much more likely to be stopped in eight of the 11 communities than one might expect based on the racial makeup of the community. In three communities – Harper Woods, Highland Park and Pontiac – the traffic stops were comparable to the racial representation of the populations of these cities, but the authors noted that there were relatively few program-related traffic stops in these cities.

Wolfe stressed during the press conference: “It is imperative to understand the difference between disparity and discrimination. The disparity is an observed difference; discrimination involves a police officer intentionally targeting someone based on their skin color. The observed disparity cannot observe intention.

Gasper said he would then try to determine why the racial disparities exist.

“We have additional steps that we intend to take to better understand the cause of the disparity,” he said. “While we don’t know the cause of the disparity, we still take action, making sure we’re engaged and having conversations with people of color.”

Omar Cuevas of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, who is on the MSP’s Bridges to BLUE Citizens Advisory Council, said the study’s findings are “sobering, but should serve as a benchmark then. as we assess the effectiveness of the MSP’s five-point plan, and work towards our common goal. “

Following Wednesday’s press conference, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement, “Colonel Gasper’s commitment to respond to these findings is also a commitment to lead by example. All law enforcement agencies should be willing to review their practices with the goal of improving their relationship with the people they serve.

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