LANSING, Mich. — Last week, the Michigan State Police released a study on traffic stops that shows state troopers pulled over a disproportionate number of Black drivers. We're taking a deeper look at stops in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties.
"Ultimately what you're trying to get at, is going in the direction of whether there's racial profiling or discrimination and an agency. But it's really, really difficult to get at that," said Scott Wolfe, lead author of the study and associate professor is MSU's Department of Criminal Justice.
Michigan State police initiated the study to be more transparent.
“We want to be held accountable because it protects us, and it definitely protects the community," said Brian Oleksyk, a Michigan State Police public information officer.
To assess the data, Michigan State University researchers compared the percentage of Black residents of a county to the percentage of Black drivers who were pulled over.
For instance, 11.1 percent of Ingham County's population is Black while 23 percent of traffic stops involved a Black driver.
In Eaton County, where 6.6 percent of the population is Black, 15.6 percent of traffic stops involved Black drivers.
In Clinton County, the MSU research team found the most extreme disparity among the three counties. Only 1.8 percent of Clinton County's population is Black, but Black drivers accounted for 15 percent of all traffic stops. That works out to more than 400 Black drivers stopped in a county with fewer than 1,500 Black residents.
“There's a lot of reasons why disparity can exist, and police traffic stops for legitimate reasons, right, there might be differences in the types of patrol areas that troopers might be assigned to that might be the particular racial characteristics, racial makeup of those specific areas. It could be crime rate issues, it could be a combination of a lot of things," Wolfe said.
For instance, under its Secure Cities Partnerships, the state police assign additional patrols to certain areas to assist with crime enforcement. The study found that nearly 77 percent of all traffic stops in these locations involved a Black driver compared to the entire state with a far lower 22 percent.
Lansing is one of these locations and it was found that 61 percent of all traffic stops involved Black drivers while 23.3 percent of Lansing’s population is Black.
Wolfe said it is important to understand the difference between disparity and discrimination.
"Discrimination requires intent," he said. "So, in order for discrimination to be found, you have to demonstrate that the trooper the officer, whatever the case might be acted with some type of racial bias intent."
Disparity, on the other hand, "cannot ascertain whether there was any intent on the part of the trooper," Wolfe said.
The State Police have developed multiple strategies to address the disparity moving forward, including a data dashboard and body-worn cameras.
According to Oleksyk, only around 250 members of the police department have a body-worn camera in the field. They plan on equipping everyone who is in touch with the public, approximately 1,600 troopers.
“Body cameras are very valuable because that's making us more transparent. And that's holding us accountable in times of need," Oleksyk said.
MSU's research team is also going to work on evaluating the new state police data dashboard.
“I think that tool, the internal dashboard, I think that's a win-win for the trooper as well, because you can make adjustments on and learn from everybody that you're stopping," Oleksyk said.
The complete study can be found here.
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