Another Study Proves Racist Policing

We already have comprehensive studies from New Jersey, Florida, Maryland, Illinois and several other states that show police use racial profiling in traffic stops. Add a new study in Connecticut with findings that are exactly like all the others: The majority of people whose cars get searched during traffic stops are black, but white people are more likely to actually be breaking the law.

In Connecticut, African Americans are twice as likely to have their cars searched for contraband than white drivers during a police stop, even though the majority of contraband found in traffic stops were found in cars belonging to white drivers, a study conducted by Central Connecticut State University found.

The study looked at more than 360,000 traffic stops over an eight-month period in Connecticut, and found that while African Americans make up less than 8 percent of the state’s population, they make up 14 percent of traffic stops. Across the state, African-American drivers have their cars searched for contraband a little over twice as often as white drivers, but 77 percent of contraband found during traffic stops was found in cars driven by white drivers.

Since the study began, nine police departments have been investigated over complaints of racial profiling. For five of the investigated departments, the percentage of stopped drivers who were African American was twice their driving populations in those communities. Only one of the investigated departments, the Farmington Police Department, searched a higher percentage of cars driven by white drivers for contraband than those driven by African Americans. In the other eight, African American drivers had their cars searched for contraband between 1.5 and three times more than white drivers. In all nine of the towns, the majority of contraband found in searched cars belonged to white drivers. Two police departments, the East Windsor and Farmington departments, found contraband in none of the stopped cars driven by African Americans.

The disparate number of stops is a small problem; the disparate number of searches is a really big problem. When officers pull over a black driver, they are far more likely to think that they have reasonable suspicion for a search. The fact that those searches actually find black drives less likely to have contraband in their vehicles does nothing to diminish that perception.

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  • Alverant

    It’s made worse by the fact a cop having “reasonable suspicion” is all it takes to demand ID and search your vehicle. That phrase is too flexible to really stand up to hard examination and if the reason for the suspicion turns out to be unreasonable, the cop isn’t punished.

  • Childermass

    If I was in charge of al drug-smuggling organization, I would institute a white-only policy for those transporting the stuff. And there will be a dress code. Of course the chief danger would be if the police hired non-racist cops. But until them…

  • Childermass

    “al drug-smuggling” –> “a drug-smuggling”


  • AndrewD

    Childermass @2 @3 and i thought you were organising a Muslim Drug ring…


  • Modusoperandi

    Look, it’s not the cops’ fault that black people exist so suspiciously.

  • DaveH

    Ok, the 1.5 to 3 times ratio is just ridiclious, though hardly unexpected, unfortunatley.

    But I have a stats question: if 8/14% of the people/stops are African-American, then wouldn’t you expect 92/86% of the contraband to be found in cars driven by non-African-Americans, assuming crime rates are close to equal? So then how does the 77% figure work out? Is that saying that the chance of finding contraband in a white driver’s car is 1.77 times that of finding it in a black driver’s? Or is that saying (as it would seem to me) that 77% of total contraband found was in white drivers’ cars, which is actually LESS than expected (92%)? Is this sloppy writing, or sloppy stats? I would like to know, because I have no intention of twisting the facts for the side of justice, just as I don’t want the side of racisim to twist the facts for their benefit.

    Even if the stats broke down with a higher rate of seziure among black drivers, there is the question of how many informal warnings/free passes to whites get compared to blacks, economic oppurtunities, etc. but that is a little bit more in depth. Also, I am browsing the original study to see what it says.

  • DaveH

    Ah, here we go: from the original study.

    Contraband found:

    White: 32.34% of Searches

    Black: 27.05% of Searches

    Still not sure what the 77% is quoting though. Somebody is writing sloppily.

  • bushrat

    Look, it’s not the cops’ fault that black people exist so suspiciously.

    I believe that there are some states where this is a shooting offence.

  • Steven

    Much of this disparity can be explained by the fact that black drivers are more likely to be speeding. There was a study done in New Jersey.

    “In the southern segment of the turnpike, where the speed limit is 65 m.p.h., 2.7 percent of black drivers were speeders, compared with 1.4 percent of white drivers. Among drivers going faster than 90 m.p.h., the disparity was even greater.

    By contrast, blacks were no more likely to speed than whites when the limit was 55 m.p.h. In those geographical segments of the turnpike, 13.1 percent of black drivers were speeders, compared with 13.5 percent of white drivers.

    Those results startled officials in the state attorney general’s office, who had assumed that the radar study would bolster their case that profiling was widespread. Instead, the study concluded that blacks make up 16 percent of the drivers on the turnpike and 25 percent of the speeders in the 65 m.p.h. zones, where complaints of profiling have been most common.”

  • DaveH

    Other randomly weird stats:

    Blacks and hispanics are pulled over 2.46 and 2.62 times more often for “excessive window tinting” than whites are (the rates for “Asian/Pacific Islander” and “Indian American/Alaskan Native” are lower than that for whites). I wonder how much of this very vague kind of grounds play out.

    Similar numbers for Suspension/Revocation of License, though that one isn’t as vague.

    Also, blacks are twice as likely to end with a misdemeanor summons as whites are. Suprise suprise.

  • DaveH

    @Steven #10:

    Not according to this study.

    In the category: Statutory Authority Cited for Stop – Speed Related

    Whites: 4.33%

    Blacks: 4.34%

  • DaveH

    Or #9, I can count to ten, I swear.

  • robnyny

    There is too much information missing from this summary to draw some of the conclusions.

    What does “majority of the contraband” mean? Are two joints twice as much contraband as one joint? Is an illegal pistol in one car more or less contraband than a bong in another car? Or is “majority” just the number of cars in which contraband was found? It would be useful to know.

    The summary says that 77% of the contraband is found in autos with white drivers. It also says that 14% of stops involve black drivers. The other 86% of stops presumably involve non-black drivers. Assuming that most of that 86% is white, attributing 77% of the contraband to those stops does not seem disproportionately high, but there is not enough information in the summary to be sure. It also means that 23% of the contraband is attributable to the 14% of the stops of black drivers and an unstated number of drivers of other races. There is not enough information in the summary to determine if that is disproportionate.

    The summary does not seem to compare the proportion of contraband seized with the proportion of actual searches carried out, only with the proportion of stops. There is not enough information in the summary to conclude whether race is correlated disproportionately for contraband discovered during searches, as opposed to stops in general.

  • DaveH


    The summary may have been sloppily written, but in the actual study it specifies that the white: 32% and black: 27% numbers I quoted mean that of searches actually done, that percent found any contraband, of any sort. FYI: asian, 19%, native, 13%, and hispanic, 25%

    Of stops, 2.7% of whites stopped got searched, and 5.7% of all blacks stopped got searched. Again, FYI, asian 1.2%, native 2.2%, hispanic 5.4%.

  • robnyny

    I just checked on Wikipedia. Connecticut is 77.6% white. This summary needs to do a better job of explaining how attributing 77% of contraband to white drivers is disproportionate.

    The way cars are selected for stopping and searching may well have a racial bias, but based on the summary, more information is needed to show that white drivers more likely to have contraband.

  • tbell

    Assuming “contraband rate” is the same between blacks and whites, one would expect the ratio of the rates at which contraband is found to reflect the stop rate, i.e. whites would account for 86% of the contraband found and blacks the remaining 14%.

    Doesn’t this mean, then, that blacks are indeed more likely to be carrying contraband since the black contraband rate is 23%? Not trying to be an apologist here, but that’s what my math tells me. I’ll be glad to be shot down.

    Of course one big assumption is that what counts as “black” contraband and “white” contraband are equivalent. Put another way, it assumes that a cop doesn’t decide to overlook a roach in a white dude’s car while a similar find in a black guy’s car results in a possession charge.

  • robnyny

    Thanks, Dave H. Do you know who wrote the summary? A journalist or the authors of the study?

  • DaveH

    The ThinkProgress article quoted in the original post has a byline of an intern there.

  • DaveH

    I think the 77% number is coming from taking all the searches that resulted in contraband being found, and saying what percentage of those finds involved white drivers. Weirdly, the table the author would have had to pull and calculate those numbers from (I haven’t found that calculation anywhere in the actual report yet), actual gives the more relevant numbers, which are the 32% and 27% of searches resulting in contraband. Why the author didn’t just quote that I have no idea. (link was in the ThinkProgress article)

    Download the pdf, page 471 if you are curious.

  • robnyny

    Dave H: Thanks for the link and explanation. You should go be an intern at ThinkProgress.

  • Alverant

    @Childermass and have them transport the drugs in new clean cars painted a business-like color (black, dark blue, etc). Make sure the cars are on the upper end of mid-range, nothing cheap but nothing excessive either. Pick a car a banker would use.

  • Robin Pilger

    It seems to me that, “twice as likely to have their cars searched” is a bit of a non sequitur to “majority of contraband found in traffic stops were found” . If you are going to use a rate for one side of a comparison, don’t use a count for the other side. It is possible for the majority of stops to be for white drivers and the rate at which contraband* is found is the same as it is for black drivers. The whites would still be where the the majority of contraband is found.

    I am not saying blacks aren’t discriminated against by police. I just dislike this kind of sloppiness when reporting statistics.

    *Were they on their way to a contra dance?

  • flatlander100

    Running Chrome on Nook HD+ tablet. No problems at all with new ad system.

  • gshelley

    The statistics are hard to work out as the stops are not random. We could assume that the majority of white stops are of people who have given the police genuine cause for suspicion, and so would expect a fairly high rate of finding contraband. A large number of black stops will be more or less random, so the percentage with contraband would be expected to be much lower

    This is much like the stop and searches in New York. A lot of the commentary on that was poor and tried to argue racism just because of a higher number of black stops as a percentage. When you actually looked at the figures found with contraband, it turned out that there was effectively no way for it not to be racially based .

  • DaveH

    GShelly, there are other clues to that effect in the report as well. You can look at how long each group was stopped for, and it turns out that of blacks that were stopped, a suspiciously higher percentage fall into the longer time bins, which means the cop is asking them more questions (depending on the circumstances, that could equate to harrasement). Of blacks that are stopped, they are more likely to have their car searched. The grounds that cops cite for stops and searches are more likely to be vague, judgement-based ones. They are more likely to end up with an arrest or misdemeanor charge once they are stopped, etc. Of course, you can always find patterns like this if you examine enough variables, but to find ones in MOST variables you analyze that suggest racial bias…

    * I do realize I am assuming that all variables analyzed, formally or informally, were reported.

  • lorn

    I hate to rain on your parade but, and I think racism is a factor, I think a whole lot of what you are blaming on simple racism is a result of race being a proxy for poverty and the system of law enforcement and prosecution being set up to preferentially prosecute poor people.


    Poverty and race/ethnicity

    The US Census declared that in 2010 15.1% of the general population lived in poverty:[40]

    9.9% of all white persons

    12.1% of all Asian persons

    26.6% of all Hispanic persons (of any race)

    28.4% of all black persons.

    About half of those living in poverty are non-Hispanic white (19.6 million in 2010),[40] but poverty rates are much higher for blacks and Hispanics. Non-Hispanic white children comprised 57% of all poor rural children.[41]


    Every cop knows that prosecuting people with money is harder. They more often hire their own lawyer/s and demand to go to trial, and that means the whole system slows down. The officer has to spend the day in court and once an investigation is done the paperwork can get brutal. Lots of time, money, and effort expended getting one conviction. (Hint: A fair way of avoiding a traffic ticket is to take it to court. In most jurisdictions more than half of all tickets that go to court are dismissed when the officer fails to show up.)

    Poor people get their representation from the public defenders office where they get an overworked, underfunded, often barely competent lawyer that has every motivation to settle the case fast by settling for a plea, even if you are completely innocent. That means prosecuting poor people gets more people prosecuted and sentenced with less time, money, and effort.

    In a time when virtually every state and municipality is short on money; when the prosecutors slot is the go to for the politically ambitious if they can show a good conviction rate; when every politician wants to be tougher on crime than the next, everyone wants to see more convictions and spend less money getting them. Prosecuting poor people is the way to go. In fact, because they cannot pay, and are likely to be late, and prosecutable for not paying, you can convert their legal problems into a cash stream. But it doesn’t stop there, poor people don’t vote or contribute to political campaigns, so no matter how hard you squeeze them there is no political price to pay.

    There is also that matter of the white people more often carrying the drugs. That is to be expected. You have to have money to buy drugs. Which is why middle to lower-middle class kids are the leading demographic for drug use. It seems to imply racism but is simply the result of preferential prosecution of poor people and black ending up as the proxy for poor.

    A final observation makes the case. Talking to police it came up that black police officers showed roughly the same arrest record by race as the white officers. You can claim self-hate but the more logical answer is that they are simply showing a preference for prosecuting poor people.

    None of this says racism is not part of the answer. I am convinced that humans are inherently bigots that are hard-wired from birth to be bigots. Studies of infants shows that they favor people who agree with their preferences and disfavor people who don’t. Later they learn to cover that preference up and narrow the bigotry to some specific factor/s, such as race, sex, sexual orientation, eye color …

    There is no chance bigotry will ever go away because we bring it with us. That isn’t to say it has to be accepted. It is the duty of each person to wrestle with their own bigotry. Failing a pure heart we can ask for even handed actions. In this case it looks more like targeting by wealth, or lack of wealth, than targeting by race.

    I suspect the powers that be would rather it be about race. Fire a few police. Hire some minorities. Have a some sensitivity classes, and buy off the leader within the minority communities with some project money. Call it settled. Until next time.

    On the other hand correcting a problem with targeting, and exploiting poor people, most of which happen to be black, raises questions of funding and, ultimately, the question of why people are poor in a wealthiest nation on the planet? Why doesn’t the system work for them?