What Does 2009 Traffic Stop Data Tell Us About Police Behavior In Champaign/Urbana?

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Traffic Stop Statistics was recently
released by the Center for Research in
Law and Justice of the University of Illinois
at Chicago. The statistics provide a
window into traffic stop data that helps
local communities answer a fundamental
question: “Are the number of traffic stops and searches
involving motor vehicles operated by members of a racial
minority disproportionate to the number of traffic stops
involving motor vehicles operated by persons who are not
members of a racial minority?”
What does the data tell us about traffic stop behavior of
the Champaign, Urbana, and University of Illinois police
To help analyze this, the state assigns an annual “ratio” to
each police department. This “ratio” is determined by dividing
the percentage of minority stops by the percentage of the
minority driving population in a community. In this way, a
ratio of 1.00 means local police departments stop Caucasian
and minority drivers in proportion to their composition of
the driving public. As an example, the 2009 statewide ratio
of 1.12 indicates that a minority driver is 12% more likely to
be stopped than a Caucasian driver in Illinois.
In contrast, the 2009 ratios for the Champaign,
Urbana, and U of I police departments were 1.45, 1.56,
and 1.36, respectively. All three local police departments
stop minority drivers in significantly greater numbers than
their percentage of the driving public. Minority drivers
accounted for 43%, 48%, and 38% of the stops in each of
the three police jurisdictions respectively while composing
only 30%, 31%, and 28% of the driving public.
This is not a new phenomenon. In fact this disparity
has been the case for all three police departments since
traffic stop statistics were first released in 2004. The last
three years, ratios have steadily increased from 1.34, 1.43,
1.45 in Champaign and 1.47, 1.49, 1.56 in Urbana.
Urbana’s ratio of 1.56 represents a six-year high, placing it
in the top 29% of 970 state law enforcement agencies with
the highest ratios. The University police’s ratio has
remained fairly constant near 1.36.
A second component of the Illinois Traffic Stops Statistics
Study focuses on the percentage of citations issued.
This is of particular interest because the officer has clear
knowledge of the race of the driver when deciding to write
a ticket or give a warning. The citation percentages below
are six-year averages.
Champaign police appear to ticket Caucasian and
minority drivers similarly (65% vs. 64%). But a distinct
disparity appears for the Urbana (57% vs. 61%) and U of I
(18% vs. 25%) police departments. In fact, in each of the
last six years minority drivers were given a higher percentage
of citations than their Caucasian counterparts by both
departments. It is also misleading to describe the situation
in Champaign in strictly equitable terms, for although
Caucasian and minority drivers are ticketed relatively
equally, minority drives are still 45% more likely to be
pulled over in the first place. It is interesting to note the
low percentage of citations given by the U of I police. Evidently
drivers on campus are treated differently, with Caucasian
drivers being ticketed only 18% of the time.
A final component of the Illinois Traffic Stops Statistics
Study reports on consent searches. Although the number
of consent searches is small, they are important statistics
because they can reveal potential bias in the officer’s decision
to request to search a car.
In 2009 Champaign, Urbana, and U of I police requested
22, 17, and 84 searches of stopped drivers respectively.
However, each police department requested minority drivers
roughly twice as often as Caucasian drivers to consent
to a search although the statistics show that contraband
was found approximately twice as often in Caucasian vehicles.
Also, the 84 consent searches by campus police
appears to be inordinately high when compared to Urbana
and Champaign.
Can we now answer the question posed at the beginning
of this article? “In our community do police stop
minority drivers disproportionately to their composition
of the driving public?” The bulk of traffic stop statistics
suggest an affirmative answer. The numbers do not tell us
why this disparity exists, only that it does. Racial bias
must be considered as a possible factor.
To comprehend the economic impact of these traffic
stop disparities in our local community, it is helpful to
visualize a situation where stop figures are actually equitable
and proportional between minority and Caucasian
drivers. Adjusting minority driver figures to be proportional
to Caucasian driver figures or adjusting Caucasian
driver figures to be proportional to minority driver figures
can easily do this.
Thus, if minority drivers were stopped proportionally
to Caucasian drivers in our community, there would have
been 18,311 fewer stops and 10,936 fewer citations of
minority drivers over the past six years. At the minimum
moving violation rate of $125, that would have been a savings
of $1,367,000 to minority drivers in
Champaign/Urbana. Conversely, if Caucasian drivers were
stopped proportionally to minority drivers, there would
have been 43,211 more stops and 27,589 more citations
of Caucasian drivers over the past six years, or an additional
cost of $3,447,500 to Caucasian drivers in Champaign/
The State Traffic Stops Statistics Studies show that for
some reason minority and Caucasian drivers in our community
are policed differently. With this information in
hand, it is now the responsibility of our communities,
elected officials, and local police departments to begin
answering the question of why?
For more information, the reports for the years 2004
through 2008, as well as a methodological overview of the
project are available at the IDOT website: www.dot.il.gov.
The 2009 report is available at: www.dot.il.gov/trafficstop/

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