WASHINGTON - Black, Hispanic and white motorists are equally likely
to be pulled over by police, but blacks and Hispanics are much more likely to
be searched, handcuffed, arrested and subjected to force or the threat of it,
a Justice Department study has found.
The study, by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, was completed
last April and posted on the agency's Web site after Bush administration officials
disagreed over whether a press release should mention the racial disparities.
Traffic stops have become a politically volatile issue as minority groups have
complained that many stops and searches are based on race rather than on legitimate
The bureau's director, Lawrence A. Greenfeld, appointed by President Bush in
2001, wanted to publicize the racial disparities, but his superiors disagreed,
a BJS employee said Wednesday. No release was issued.
Greenfeld has told his staff that he is being moved to a new job following
the dispute, according to this employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity
because he is not authorized to talk to reporters.
Greenfeld was not immediately available for comment. Justice Department spokesman
Brian Roehrkasse would not comment on Greenfeld's status.
"When someone in law enforcement who is willing to speak the truth about
racial profiling gets demoted for it, that's absolutely chilling," said
Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau. "To manage any
problem, we must first measure it."
Roehrkasse said, "There was no effort to suppress any information because
the report was released in its entirety on the Web site." He added that
37 of 55 BJS reports issued in 2004 and so far this year were not accompanied
by a news release.
Based on interviews of almost 77,000 Americans age 16 or over in 2002, the
study drew no conclusions about the reasons for the racial disparities in post-stop
Casey Perry, chairman of the National Troopers Coalition, which represents
state highway patrolmen, said he wasn't surprised about the percentage of motorists
who are pulled over. "It's very interesting there was no racial disparity,"
he said, arguing that some regional studies which found profiling had been skewed
by local demographics. More information would be needed to evaluate the post-stop
data, he said.
Shelton said the BJS study found less racial disparity in traffic stops than
a nationwide NAACP study between 1991-93, but said the figures for racial disparity
in arrests and use of force were consistent with his group's findings.
The data showed that black, Hispanic and white motorists were equally likely
to be pulled over by police; about 9 percent of each are stopped. Traffic stops
were the most frequent form of police contact with the public; an estimated
16.8 million drivers were stopped in 2002.
The racial disparities showed up after that point:
_Blacks (5.8 percent) and Hispanics (5.2 percent) were much more likely
to be arrested than whites (2 percent).
_Hispanics (71.5 percent) were much more likely to be ticketed than
blacks (58.4 percent) or whites (56.5 percent).
_Blacks (2.7 percent) and Hispanics (2.4 percent) were far more likely
than whites (0.8 percent) to report that police used force or the threat of
it. Force was defined as when an officer pushed, grabbed, kicked or hit a driver
with a hand or object. Also included were police dog bites, chemical or pepper
spray or a firearm pointed at the driver, or the threat of any of these.
_Handcuffs were used on greater percentages of black motorists (6.4
percent) and Hispanics (5.6 percent) than whites (2 percent).
_Black and Hispanic drivers and their vehicles were much more likely
to be searched than whites and their vehicles. Black motorists were searched
8.1 percent of the time; Hispanics, 8.3 percent; whites, 2.5 percent. Vehicles
driven by blacks were searched 7.1 percent of the time; by Hispanics, 10.1 percent;
by whites, 2.9 percent.
The study, first reported by The New York Times, said the interviews did not
ask enough questions about circumstances — such as whether drugs were
in plain view — or about driver conduct to "answer the question of
whether the driver's race, rather than the driver's conduct or other specific
circumstances," led to the search.
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