Michigan state police disproportionately stop Black drivers

Michigan

FILE – Michigan State Police Col. Joe Gasper speaks during a press conference on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, at the Frank Kelley Law Library in the Williams Building in Lansing, Mich. Gasper pledged changes Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, as the agency released an independent report finding that troopers disproportionately pulled over Black drivers in 2020 traffic stops. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The leader of the Michigan State Police pledged changes Wednesday as the agency released an independent report finding that troopers disproportionately pulled over Black drivers in 2020 traffic stops.

African American motorists were more likely to be stopped than expected under a series of benchmarks — including population, an analysis of crash data and a comparison of stops in daylight vs. night, according to the research done by the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice. The review, which had been commissioned by the department after it identified potential racial disparities, also said Black and Hispanic drivers were significantly more likely than White motorists to be searched or arrested after traffic stops.

“These findings demand immediate action. The people of Michigan deserve unbiased policing, transparency and accountability,” said Col. Joe Gasper, the agency’s director.

He outlined a five-point plan to better understand and address the disparities. They include hiring an expert to recommend “systemic” policy changes, listening to communities of color and their leaders, and developing a dashboard with timely data so troopers “can learn about and adjust their own actions.”

The agency also will create a professional development bureau to train employees and issue body-worn cameras to all personnel who might come into contact with the public. Funding for the cameras is included in the current state budget.

The study and Gasper’s announced steps are the latest following years of scrutiny related to alleged racial profiling. At the request of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the department in 2017 revised its policies to require that troopers record the race of stopped drivers. In 2020, it announced it would hire a third-party research institution to review traffic stop data after a continuing increase in the percentage of traffic stops involving African American drivers.

Black motorists accounted for 22.1% of stops in 2020 and 13.6% of the population. Hispanic drivers were less likely to be pulled over than expected but more likely to be searched or arrested. Asian motorists were significantly less likely to be searched or arrested than white drivers but more likely to get a citation.

In June, two African American motorists who had a tense two-hour encounter with white troopers and drug-sniffing dogs filed a lawsuit, demanding that the agency get outside help to reduce racial disparities in traffic stops.

“Discrimination involves intent, whereas observed disparities do not speak to whether an officer acted with intent. This report and its findings speak only to the extent of racial or ethnic disparity in MSP’s traffic stops. At the same time, the data do show a meaningful level of disparity that deserves more attention,” said Scott Wolfe, a Michigan State associate professor who led the analysis.

His team also will issue a report on 2021 data, do more rigorous analyses to fully understand the level of racial disparity and evaluate the department’s internal dashboard. He said it will be a “groundbreaking” study that will help the agency and other law enforcement agencies across the U.S.

“We need further study to determine the root causes of these disparities,” Gasper said.

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP’s Detroit branch, credited Gasper for acknowledging the department’s faults and being open to corrective actions unlike, he said, several of his predecessors. But he added there must be accountability for officers who violate the public’s trust.

“While they may not be racist, the consequences of their actions have a great racial disparity,” Anthony said.

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