If you're between the ages of 21 and 40, a man, or white, you're more likely to be pulled over by the Vermont State police according to a study conducted by the Institute of Race and Justice. No surprise given Vermont's demographics. But what the report revealed about race and ethnicity quashes anecdotal criticism that there's a systematic tendency within the organization toward racial profiling.
"Statistics can't tell what's in the minds of an officer, but it can tell you where you might look to see if you have a problem," said Jack McDevitt of the Institute on Race and Justice.
After reviewing 50,000 traffic stops made by 275 troopers statewide, the report concluded that "the traffic enforcement practices of the Vermont State Police seem professional and appear to have relatively few disparities by race or ethnicity." In fact, troopers stopped very few drivers of color-- 4.4-percent-- when compared to the state's nonwhite population of 5.7 percent. And when they were stopped it was more often for moving violations.
"In a lot of places what you see is the equipment stops are of nonwhite drivers and the idea is that it's a pretext stop. I'm going to pull you over because you have a tail light out, but I'm hoping to search your car and find drugs or guns or something in it. And that's not what's happening here. White drivers are more likely to be subject to equipment stops," McDevitt said.
But the numbers did show that drivers of color were 2.5 times more likely to be searched than white drivers. They're also 10 percent more likely than a white driver to be ticketed during a traffic stop. Researchers say these two findings should not be read as an indication of biased policing, but they are trends that should be watched closely in the future.
"If we take our foot off the accelerator and say that we're all good now-- we're not all good and we have to continue to work with all the communities that are represented in Vermont to make sure that they are getting the police service that they want and pay for," said Col. Tom L'Esperance of the Vt. State Police.
"We're pleased with the results," said Curtiss Reed of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity.
Reed is a civil rights advocate who says he hopes this report will help alleviate the general distrust of law enforcement within the community of color. But he says commanders cannot become complacent.
"There's no evidence of profiling, per se, but what the evidence does suggest we need to take a closer look at implicit bias at the individual trooper level," Reed said.
The Vermont Human Rights Commission is not nearly as convinced by the findings. While executive director Robert Appel applauds data collection efforts by State police, he says the study's biggest flaw is collapsing all nonwhites into one category, which may delete disparities regarding African-Americans.
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