MSP finds race disparities in traffic stops

Local News

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – An independent study commissioned by the Michigan State Police has found racial disparities in the frequency and outcomes of traffic stops conducted by MSP troopers in 2020.

The study from Michigan State University used census data, crash report data and even compared night and daytime traffic stops. Through all three benchmarks, researchers found that Black people were significantly more likely to be involved in a traffic stop than other races based on population. Hispanic and Asian drivers were found to be less likely to be involved in a traffic stop than other races, but were more likely to receive citations.

“We also examined if there was any evidence of disparity in the outcomes received by drivers when they are stopped by an MSP trooper. This analysis show that African American and Hispanic drivers were significantly more likely than white drivers to be searched and more likely to be arrested after traffic stops,” said Dr. Scott Wolfe, MSU professor and the lead writer of the study.

MSP director Col. Joe Gasper announced the department will hire an independent consulting firm to review MSP policies and offer changes to address racial disparities in traffic stops.

Gasper also recommended equipping all troopers with body cameras and offering cultural awareness training.

“Michiganders deserve unbiased policing, transparency and accountability from their state police, and that’s what they’re going to get,” said Gasper in a press release.

“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. Today, armed with new awareness about our traffic stop activity, we’re taking another step toward transparency for the communities we serve. We will fix this together.” 

The department released a 5-point improvement plan that includes:

  • Hiring an independent consulting firm to review MSP policies with an eye toward making recommendations for systemic changes that will address racial disparities.
  • Launching a statewide listening and engagement effort, in partnership with the Bridges to B.L.U.E. Citizen Advisory Council, in which MSP leadership will engage in open and honest conversation with leaders from communities of color, surfacing problems and finding solutions together.
  • Making more data available to MSP troopers through a dashboard that will provide real-time traffic stop data so they can learn about and adjust their actions.
  • Ramping up educational opportunities for troopers and recruits through the creation of the department’s Professional Development Bureau. This new bureau will provide training and development for enforcement members on familiar topics, as well as on new and emerging topics including mental health, wellness, de-escalation, cultural competency, decision-making, implicit bias and communication skills.
  • Issuing body worn cameras to all enforcement members who could have enforcement contact with Michigan residents and visitors. 

John Johnson, Jr., Executive Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, commended the Michigan State Police and the report. But he agreed with other civil rights leaders that the findings showed something they believed was going on for years.

“Put this along side video that’s been coming out over the years of things that have happened on the streets, the misconduct of police, that brings it real. That brings it to your living room,” he said.

“The disparate treatment of black and brown people when engaging with law enforcement is not a surprise, but this study quantified that which we all know is happening. Knowing the truth is the first step toward fixing the problem,” Johnson added in a press release.

He said that the study was a step towards accountability in the department and in the wider law enforcement community.

“We must also take steps to modify the behavior of police who perpetuate this problem, and hold those who do not change accountable for their actions. We stand ready to assist the Michigan State Police in developing solutions that will lead to this much-needed accountability,” said Johnson.

As for MSP, Gasper said the department will team up with MSU again to study 2021 traffic data and will commission a separate study to find the root causes behind these issues.

The department has posted the executive summary and full report on its Transparency and Accountability webpage at www.michigan.gov/MSPtransparency, and it is available directly:

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