Newsbrief: Pennsylvania Troopers Find Dope Most Often on White Motorists but Search More Blacks and Hispanics, Study Finds 6/11/04

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A year-long study of racial profiling practices in the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) has found little evidence to show that state troopers stop minority motorists in disproportionate numbers, but has found that troopers are more likely to search them even though white motorists are more likely to be carrying contraband. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Penn State University for the PSP, in response to public and political pressure to examine whether state troopers are engaging in racially discriminatory police practices.

The PSP is, naturally, trumpeting the study's finding that "no consistent evidence exists to suggest that Pennsylvania State Troopers make stopping decisions based on drivers' race or ethnicity." In a press release late last month, State Police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller noted that the PSP had commissioned the study as part of a policy prohibiting bias-based policing. "I'm pleased that the results clearly show that our troopers are not stopping drivers based on their race."

But apparent bias does show up in "post-stop outcomes," where "it appears there are racial, ethnic and gender disparities, particularly for arrest and search decisions," the study's authors reported. The study found that blacks were 1.5 times more likely to be arrested and 3.0 times more likely to be searched than whites. For Hispanics, those figures were 1.8 and 2.7 respectively.

The difference between the post-stop arrest and search figures for each ethnic group is attributable to the study's finding that while minorities are more likely to be searched during a traffic stop, they are less likely to be carrying contraband than whites. PSP officers found contraband in 29% of searches of whites, compared to 21% for blacks, 17% for Hispanics and 12% for "other."

Revealingly, searches conducted at the trooper's discretion – as opposed to those mandated by departmental policy – show an even greater discrepancy in search success rates and a higher percentage of searches conducted that found nothing. For these types of hunch-based searches, PSP officers found contraband in 17% of searches of whites, compared to 11% for blacks, 9% for Hispanics and 7% for "other."

"Differential searches and success rates of minority drivers appears to be an issue of department-wide concern," the study's authors noted.

And by the way, when it comes to "contraband" seized by the PCP, 51% was drugs, 18% was alcohol, then came cash and cars. Weapons were seized in only 5.5% of the successful searches. And in fully half of all vehicle searches, the only reason for searching the vehicle was the driver's consent.

Read the study, "Project on Police-Citizen Contacts, Year I Report," online at:

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Issue #341, 6/11/04 The Reagan-Era Drug War Legacy | Medical Marijuana Activists Protest at More Than 100 Congressional Offices in National Day of Action | Despite Ohio State University's Best Efforts, Ohio Hempfest Goes On As Scheduled | Canadian Marijuana Reformers "Fill the Hill" to Make Cannabis an Issue in Upcoming Election Season | Newsbrief: "Three Strikes" Challenge Makes California Ballot | Newsbrief: Pennsylvania Troopers Find Dope Most Often on White Motorists but Search More Blacks and Hispanics, Study Finds | Newsbrief: Swiss Doctors Want Prescription Cocaine, But Government Wary With Cannabis Decriminalization Vote Looming | Newsbrief: Another Pain Doctor on Trial | Newsbrief: Legalize and Tax Cannabis, Says Canadian Institute | Links: Rockefeller Reform Fizzles Again | The Reformer's Calendar

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