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New traffic stop report shows continued racial disparities in Burlington

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 12:44 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A new traffic stop analysis reveals the Burlington Police Department has one of the highest racial disparities in arrest and search rates in Vermont.

Dr. Stephanie Seguino of the University of Vermont presented the report before the Burlington City Council on Monday. The report looked at several indicators of racial disparities including stops, arrests and searches. The numbers show Black drivers are 67% more likely to be arrested during a traffic stop than any other racial group. They’re also 3.8 times more likely to be searched than white drivers.

Seguino says the data indicates white drivers are treated better and more favorably than Black drivers.

“So, for example, white drivers who are stopped because signals are required -- 93% get a warning, 80% of Black drivers get a warning. That means if you’re not getting a warning, you are getting either a ticket or perhaps an arrest," Seguino said.

According to the analysis, from 2017 to 2019, Black drivers were 3.9 times more likely to be searched than white drivers. That’s higher than the national average. At the national level, Black drivers are two times more likely to be searched than white drivers.

The report also states data quality requires more attention and missing data continues to be a problem. Last year, people of color represented 13% of all stops in Burlington and 4% were missing a race on the report.

Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad says the department has taken new steps to address those data gaps, such as issuing electronic tickets instead of paper ones.

“E-tickets is an electronic system that eliminates the recording errors that you get from paper tickets,” he said. "And we are reviewing past stops. Nancy Stetson routinely goes through past stops to understand how and why data is missing. It is very important that no traffic incident gets closed out without a race data and that is something that we’re very clear on.”

To eliminate racial disparities, some experts suggest banning pretextual stops, requiring written consent for searches and holding supervisors accountable for the inequitable behavior of their officers.

Compared to other law enforcement agencies in the state, the Burlington Police have the lowest stop rate per 1,000 residents. The report reveals traffic stops per 1,000 drivers fell 64% from 2014 to 2019.

BPD also has the second-lowest Black-white stop rate disparity.

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