Durham study supports traffic-stop disparity claims

jwise@newsobserver.comSeptember 26, 2013 

In North Carolina, the numbers show that a black or Hispanic motorist is 77 percent more likely to be searched after a traffic stop than a white driver.

“I don’t want to over-interpret the numbers,” said UNC political scientist Frank R. Baumgartner, who analyzed data from more than 13.2 million traffic stops during more than 10 years ( bit.ly/1fIdvvZ). “The numbers speak for themselves.”

In Durham County, the analysis showed a black motorist is more than twice as likely than a white to be searched after being stopped for speeding. The likelihood is even greater after being stopped for a seat-belt violation.

Traffic-stop numbers have been a catalyst for protests against racial profiling by Durham police, said Durham attorney David Hall.

“The issues of racial disparities in Durham are getting worse,” said Durham resident Meghan McDowell, who with Hall and others have made complaints headed to the city’s Human Relations Commission.

In 1999, the North Carolina Legislature passed one of the nation’s first laws requiring law-enforcement agencies to collect and report racial and ethnic data on traffic stops. Figures from Sept. 1, 2008, through July 31, 2013, are available at the state Department of Justice’s Traffic Stop Statistics website ( bit.ly/1h4Uqlw).

During that period, the Durham Police Department made 112,960 traffic stops.

• White drivers: 43,648; 38.6 percent;

• Black drivers: 66,412; 58.7 percent.

• Hispanic drivers: 14,071; 12.4 percent.

(Percentages do not add up to 100 because drivers may be counted both as Hispanic and white or black; in the police and census breakdowns, Hispanic is an ethnic category, while state Department of Justice racial categories are White, Black, Native American, Asian and Other.)

Those 112,960 traffic stops involved 116,810 drivers and passengers and led to 10,353 searches:

• White: 2,055; 19.8 percent;

• Black: 8,251; 79.7 percent;

• Hispanic: 1,027; 9.9 percent.

Those 112,960 traffic stops resulted in 1,896 “on-view” arrests, that is, immediate arrests without a previous warrant or incident report:

• White: 568; 30 percent of arrests;

• Black, 1,314; 69 percent of arrests;

Hispanic, 337; 17.7 percent of arrests.

Durham’s statistics reflect a statewide situation Baumgartner’s analysis describes. In 2012, he and graduate student Derek Epp analyzed data from 13.2 million North Carolina traffic stops, involving 13.5 million drivers and passengers, between Jan. 1, 2000, and June 14, 2011.

North Carolina required traffic-stop reports at a time when there was “rising concern” nationwide about racial profiling on the highways, Baumgartner said last week.

“We were very progressive on that,” he said. However, while the information accumulated, no performed any analysis on the data or reported what it found.

“So we did,” he said.

Whites constituted 68.5 percent of the state’s 2010 population, blacks 21.5 percent and Hispanics 7.92. Baumgartner and Epp found, though, that:

• 30 percent of the traffic stops involved blacks, 21.5 percent whites, 7.92 percent of Hispanics;

• 4.86 percent of blacks’ stops led to searches; 2.74 percent of whites’, 5.39 percent of Hispanics;

• 4.5 percent of blacks’ stops led to arrests, 2.8 percent of whites’, 5.93 percent of Hispanics’.

Durham attorney Scott Holmes has written ( bit.ly/16Mneul) that such statistics demonstrate that “racial profiling is a tragically real part of our system of law enforcement.”

Baumgartner said he and Epp conducted their analysis at the request of a N.C. Advocates for Justice Task Force On Racial and Ethnic Bias. They submitted it Feb. 1, 2012, and Baumgartner said he does not know what, if anything, the task force will do with the information.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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