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Racial bias on Minnesota roads?
by University of Minnesota News Service
From eNews, October 2, 2003
In 2002, black, Latino, and American Indian drivers were stopped and searched by Minnesota law enforcement officers more often than white drivers, according to a recent University of Minnesota study on racial profiling. But during discretionary searches, illegal substances were more likely to be found on white drivers. Researchers at the U's Institute on Race and Poverty discovered that black drivers were stopped more often than expected based on the proportion of black drivers in 64 out of the 65 jurisdiction that participated in the study. White drivers were stopped at a greater than expected rate in only eight out of 60 jurisdictions. (Five jurisdiction did not provide enough information to be included into the comparison.) If officers in the 65 jurisdictions had stopped drivers of every race and ethnicity according to their proportion in the driving population, the outcome of the study would have been different, says Myron Orfield, executive director of the institute. About 18,800 fewer blacks, 5,800 fewer Latinos, and approximately 22,500 more whites would have been stopped, he says. According to the study, the greatest differences between actual and expected stops and search rates for black drivers are found in suburban and central cities other than Minneapolis. These drivers were stopped 310 percent more often than expected, and once they had been stopped, officers subjected these drivers to searches at a rate of 108 percent greater than expected. Of those black drivers, only 11 percent were found to have contraband, compared to 18 percent of the white drivers who were searched. "The significant disparities in search rates are of particular concern, given that contraband is found on black and Latino drivers at a much lower rate," says Tom Johnson, president of the Council on Crime and Justice, an independent nonprofit organization that collaborated with the U on the study. And although there is more variation in the results for American Indian drivers across jurisdictions, "data for this group also raise concerns of bias," he says. In 2002, law enforcement officers in the participating jurisdictions were asked to collect traffic stop data such as the driver's age and gender and reason for the stop. The officers were also asked to report if they knew the race or ethnicity of the drivers before stopping them. To read a report about the study or to learn more about the Institute on Race and Poverty, based at the University of Minnesota Law School, see www.umn.edu/irp.