Study: Black, Latino drivers more likely to be searched and arrested after traffic stops

By: - January 13, 2022 10:30 am

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An independent study commissioned by the Michigan State Police (MSP) released on Wednesday found racial and ethnic disparities in traffic stops conducted by its troopers in 2020.

Black and Latino drivers were significantly more likely than white motorists to be searched or arrested after traffic stops, according to the study. Conversely, Asian drivers were significantly less likely to be searched or arrested compared to white drivers, but they were more likely to receive a citation.

In addition, traffic stops that occurred during daylight hours were 33% more likely to involve Black drivers. “They were also more likely to be stopped during daylight compared to during darkness, which suggests racial bias may play a role in some troopers’ stop behavior,” the study reads.

State police data: More than 1/5 of traffic stops involve Black motorists

“Michiganders deserve unbiased policing, transparency and accountability from their state police, and that’s what they’re going to get,” said MSP Director Col. Joe Gasper through a statement. “To be clear, this report is not a commentary on the integrity of individual troopers, who are steadfastly committed to serving everyone with dignity and respect. But this independent study did find clear and consistent evidence that racial and ethnic disparities exist in Michigan State Police traffic stops, and we need to change that.

Gasper said the department has “new awareness about traffic stop activity.”

“We will fix this together,” he added.

Unveiling a five-point plan, the MSP will hire an independent consulting firm to review department policies and recommend systemic changes to address disparities in traffic stops. Gasper, a Gretchen Whitmer administration appointee, also committed to equipping all troopers with body cameras, injecting cultural awareness training into a new Professional Development Bureau, and launching a statewide listening and learning tour with African-American leaders.

Scott Wolfe, associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University (MSU,) carried out the study. He was assisted by MSU School of Criminal Justice doctoral students Travis Carter and Jedidiah Knode.

The Advance has been tracking this issue for years. In September 2020, the Advance reported that the percentage of MSP traffic stops of Blacks rose each year between 2017 and 2019. 

Michigan State Police report on racial disparities in traffic stops, January 2022

The trend continued in 2020, according to MSP data, as Black motorists were involved in 65,917 traffic stops by MSP troopers. More than one in every five — 21.5% — of MSP traffic stops in 2020 involved Black motorists, the Advance reported in July 2021. That percentage is significantly higher than the African-American population in Michigan, which is about 14%.

In June 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit against MSP on behalf of two African Americans who said that they were racially profiled during a wrongful traffic stop, as the Advance previously reported

The incident occurred in August 2019 in Oak Park near the Detroit border. Camara Sankofa, 50, and Shanelle Thomas, 35, both educators at the time, were detained for more than two hours and later released without citation. They described the situation as “humiliating.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that the MSP releasing the study is “a commitment to leading by example.”

“All law enforcement agencies should be willing to examine their practices in an effort to improve their relationship with the people they serve—effective public service cannot be reached without constructive reflection,” said Nessel through a statement. “I appreciate the brave members of our law enforcement community and know today’s announcement will lead to positive change.”

Michigan State Police report on racial disparities in traffic stops, January 2022

Detroit Branch NAACP President Wendell Anthony has been critical of the MSP for several years. He has called on the department to hire more troopers of color. After the study was released, he called it “revealing but not surprising.”

“We commend the department for exposing its flaws,” said Anthony through a statement. “Now let’s work together to advance its cures. The training and education is most valuable.”

Anthony said the MSP should consider partnering with Wayne County Community College District to improve “cultural sensitivity and de-escalation techniques.” The school has a law enforcement training program.

Omar Cuevas, vice president of sales and marketing with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and an MSP adviser, called the study results “sobering.” 

“It must serve as a baseline to evaluate the effectiveness of the MSP’s five-point plan,” said Cuevas. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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