Study of Pennsylvania State Police traffic stops finds disparity between people searched and people found with contraband
According to an independent study by the National Policing Institute, when acting at their discretion, Pennsylvania state police are more likely to search black and Hispanic drivers than white drivers.
State police commissioned the study and released key takeaways on Tuesday.
The institute found that black drivers were nearly twice as likely as white drivers to be searched for discretionary reasons during traffic stops, and Hispanic drivers were 1.3 times more likely. Engel said the report was unable to determine whether these disparities were due to bias.
The report says discretionary searches include those based on reasonable suspicion, probable cause or consent. Non-discretionary searches would take place when a soldier is required to search a vehicle, such as when a driver is stopped or the soldier has seen evidence of a crime in plain sight.
Robin Engel, senior vice president of the National Policing Institute, said this was a “moderate effect in terms of level of significance” as discretionary searches account for less than three percent of all traffic stops .
State police do not ask drivers to identify their racial and ethnic background, but they do note their perception of the driver’s race. And so the analysis is based on what race the soldiers thought the drivers were.
Jeremy Long – WITF News
Dr. Robin Engel, senior vice president of the National Policing Institute, presents analysis of data collected from all 2022 soldier-initiated traffic stops across Pennsylvania at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy in Hershey on May 23, 2023
Although black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to be searched for discretionary reasons, white drivers were more likely to be found with illegal contraband, such as drugs and drug paraphernalia. The rate of contraband seizures was higher in consent searches involving white drivers, at around 52%. The capture rate in consent searches involving Blacks and Hispanics was 41.5% and 32.9%, respectively.
Overall, of the 12,236 arrests resulting in searches, 53.6% resulted in the seizure of contraband
The report says 46.1% of seizures were drugs, but it does not specify what type.
“It’s incredibly high,” Engel said. “Most of the agencies I see across the country have search and seizure or seizure rates ranging from 20 to 30 to 35 percent. It’s actually one of the highest search success rates I’ve seen in the country. »
The state police began collecting traffic stop data in 2002, but stopped doing so in 2011. The agency began collecting data again in 2021.
Jeremy Long – WITF News
Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Col. Christopher Paris answers questions from the media after Dr. Robin Engel, Senior Vice President of the National Policing Institute, presented analysis of data collected from all 2022 soldier-initiated traffic stops across Pennsylvania at the Pennsylvania State Police. Academy in Hershey on May 23, 2023
“The data shows that our department has made great strides in these results over the years, and we are proud of the work our soldiers continue to do,” said Col. Christopher Paris, Commissioner of PSP.
The report offers some recommendations for state police, including improving data collection by including more fields in the form that soldiers fill out during a stop. This may include indicating whether consent to research has been requested and specifying the main and secondary reasons for the arrest. The report also recommends improving the accountability and monitoring of the behavior of police officers during traffic stops, in particular during stops that could involve seeking consent.
Paris said the agency was trying to implement more complex statistical analysis methods to capture more data.
“The more data we have, the more explicable certain disparities can be,” Paris said.
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