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Study: Blacks and Hispanics more likely to be searched nationwide

A recent, large-scale study by Stanford University's Open Policing Project has found good evidence that African-American and Hispanic drivers are ticketed and subjected to vehicle searches at a higher rate than whites and that this is due to racial bias. Moreover, the effect does not appear limited to states with histories of discriminatory legislation.

For years, the Open Policing Project has been collecting traffic stop reports from across the nation and publishing them to a database. So far, the group has collected over 136 million records. Since some jurisdictions provide more complete information than do others, the researchers narrowed their focus for this study to about 64 million records.

The traffic stop reports studied for this research were from state patrol stops in 20 states between 2011 and 2015. The researchers did not consider any racial disparity in the total number of stops, because driving behavior was a factor that could not be separated out easily.

As a baseline, however, they found that statistically, African-Americans were pulled over most often, followed by whites and then Hispanics. Did the same pattern follow in ticketing and vehicle searches?

No. Surprisingly, although Hispanics were pulled over the least often, they were both issued speeding tickets and searched for contraband at the highest rates. Among drivers aged 20 to 29, whites were only given tickets 72 percent of the time, while African-Americans were ticketed 75 percent of the time and Hispanics 77 percent of the time.

"After controlling for stop location, date and time, and driver age and gender -- via logistic regression, as above -- we find that black and Hispanic drivers have approximately twice the odds of being searched relative to white drivers," the study said regarding searches.

Was the disparity in searches justified?

To determine whether searching African-Americans and Hispanics twice as often as whites was justified, the researchers compared the overall search rate with the "hit rate" -- the rate at which actual contraband was found.

Here, too, the researchers found evidence of bias. While the hit rate among whites and African-Americans was about the same at 28 percent of searches, the hit rate among Hispanics was significantly lower at 22 percent of searches.

The researchers then performed a statistical threshold analysis, which confirmed that there was statistically significant evidence of bias in the officers' decisions on whose vehicles to search.

Whenever there is evidence of racial bias in policing, our society needs to take notice. People's trust in the rule of law depends heavily on a sense that the justice system is more or less fair and unbiased. What do you think should be done?

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