Report says THP vehicle stops are racially proportionate

Hank Hayes • Dec 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Tennessee Highway Patrol vehicle stops during 2006 appeared “racially proportionate” among white, African-American and other motorists, according to a state comptroller’s report released on Tuesday.

The report pointed out troopers receive some pre-service and in-service cultural diversity training but may need more specific training on vehicle stops. As of last May, 87 percent of THP’s uniformed personnel were white, and 95 percent were male.

“(THP) officials indicate that troopers often cannot see drivers until after stopping them,” the report said. “Unlike local law enforcement officers, the THP patrols the state’s interstate highways where cars travel at high rates of speed.”

State lawmakers had asked the Comptroller’s Office of Research to analyze THP stops to determine whether race and ethnicity appeared to play a role in troopers’ decisions to stop motorists.

Troopers collected information on every vehicle stop, including race, ethnicity, gender, age, result of the stop, and whether troopers conducted a search or issued a traffic citation, the report said.

The U.S. Department of Justice defines racial profiling as: “Any police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity or national origin rather than the behavior of an individual.” There is no federal law prohibiting racial profiling by state and local law enforcement, according to the report.

The report found that Hispanic drivers, however, appeared to be “over represented in many post-stop activities.”

Moving violations were the most commonly identified reason for stops, regardless of race. African-American and other drivers were stopped for moving violations at slightly higher rates, while Hispanic and white drivers were stopped more often for non-moving violations, said the report.

The report insisted drivers received citations at similar rates regardless of race. Ninety percent of stops resulted in a citation.

Search rates, however, varied by race. One of eight stopped Hispanic drivers was searched compared to one of 13 stopped African-American drivers and one of 14 stopped white drivers.

Troopers seized physical evidence such as weapons, drugs, vehicles and stolen property in 25.5 percent of all searches. Searched Hispanic drivers had physical evidence seized at a rate of 15 percent compared to 25 percent of white drivers and 28 percent of searched African-American drivers. White drivers had drugs seized at a higher rate than other racial groups.

Ethel Detch, director of the Office of Research, cautioned that such studies should be interpreted thoughtfully.

“Although the results of this analysis are thought-provoking, there are many unanswered questions,” she said in a prepared release.

The report said THP submitted more than 239,000 vehicle stop data forms, which indicate that more than 212,000 citations were issued during 2006.

THP, however, reported issuing more than 270,000 citations during the year. Department of Safety officials indicate the discrepancy resulted from vehicle stops outside the study requirements, such as roadblocks and vehicle crash sites, or multiple violations from a single stop.

For more information go to www.comptroller.state.tn.us.

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