Study Of Traffic Stops In North Carolina Shows Significant Racial Bias

| by Will Hagle

A recent report on traffic stops by police officers in North Carolina showed a significant, racially-charged skew in data. A black driver is 77 percent more likely to be stopped and searched at a traffic stop than a white driver in the state, the study found. While this data is so significant that it may sound as if it was pulled from a small sample size taken over a short period of time, the opposite is true. UNC political scientist Frank R. Baumgartner analyzed data from 13.2 million traffic stops that spanned a 10 year period. The State of North Carolina passed a law in 1999 that required law-enforcement agencies to collect racial and ethnic data on police-led traffic stops. 

“I don’t want to over-interpret the numbers. The numbers speak for themselves,” Baumgartner told the News Observer.

According to the data, “30 percent of the traffic stops involved blacks, 21.5 percent whites, 7.92 percent Hispanics. 4.86 percent of blacks’ stops led to searches; 2.74 percent of whites’, 5.39 percent of Hispanics. 4.5 percent of blacks’ stops led to arrests, 2.8 percent of whites’, 5.93 of Hispanics.” Analyzing other data such as North Carolina’s population (which is 68.5 percent white, 21.5 percent black and 7.92 percent Hispanic), Baumgartner and his partner, graduate student Derek Epp, deduced the figure of 77%. 

“A 77 percent greater likelihood of being searched is a pretty significant difference,” Baumgartner told the News Observer.

Baumgartner and Epp are working to combat the racial bias that they found occurring in the state. The team submitted their report to the N.C. Advocates for Justice task force in February, 2012. The report was passed along to the Attorney General, who has been “working pretty quietly,” according to Baumgartner. 

Although the report found significant evidence of racial bias, it’s likely that it will take more than simple data to change the culture of law enforcement in North Carolina and other states. Durham attorney Scott Holmes explained that this long-suspected phenomenon is now supported by clear evidence. “As an empirical fact ... we have a culture in our law enforcement for unconscious institutional racism,” Holmes commented.

Durham City Hall is scheduled to discuss the report and its proposed solutions during upcoming meetings.