Michigan State Police Join National Push to Collect Race Data on Traffic Stops

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
December 10, 1999 12:00 am

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MICHIGAN – According to a story in today’s Detroit News, the Michigan State Police will begin in January tracking the race of all drivers pulled over for traffic stops. Reflecting a nationwide push for such monitoring programs, troopers will log the race and gender of every motorist stopped — even if no ticket is issued. They’ll also note whether the vehicle was searched.

“We need to reassure motorists that they aren’t being singled out because of their race,” said U.S. Attorney Saul Green.

In July, state police Col. Michael Robinson, who is the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, announced plans to begin keeping track of race and gender data of motorists by October, but then delayed that plan. On Tuesday, post commanders were notified of the final plans, said Capt. Jack Shepard.

The newspaper report that the program, to be presented to officers next week, comes in response to claims by civil rights groups and individuals who believe some police officers show bias in traffic stops.

“We want to respond to the perception that some minority groups are unfairly singled out for traffic stops,” said Maj. Tim Yungfer at the state police headquarters. “That’s something the state police has never engaged in, and we want to be able to back that up. … The numbers don’t lie.”

The Michigan Sheriff’s Association said a pilot program to collect race data will begin in Kalamazoo County early next year.

“We want to get all the bugs worked out,” said Terry Jungle, the executive director of the association. “I think we’re all on the same page on this one.”

Dearborn will also collect data and report its findings to the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

Racial profiling, which refers to law enforcement stops made on the basis of race or a general profile of suspects, has been widely criticized nationwide. In June, President Clinton ordered federal law enforcement agencies to collect racial and gender data on people they stop or arrest, following the admission in April that some New Jersey state troopers had engaged in racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike.

“Most black people at one time or another have been the target of a traffic stop based on their race,” said Godfrey Dillard, a Detroit attorney. “Look, if you’re an 18-year-old black man from Detroit, you’re going to get searched an awful lot more than a suburbanite.”

Michigan joins North Carolina and Connecticut among states that begin collecting race data Jan. 1 on all traffic stops. The Detroit News reported that Ohio has been collecting the data for 1 1/2 years.

The ACLU last week filed a class-action suit against the California Highway Patrol, charging that it had engaged in racial profiling. In Michigan, the son of Detroit’s mayor was stopped with an assistant Oakland County prosecutor in Royal Oak on Memorial Day and handcuffed briefly.

Michigan State Police officers typically make about 830,000 traffic stops and issue about 400,000 tickets annually. Commanders said Thursday they will monitor the race data by officer, region and post — looking for red flags. If there are suspicions that any trooper is inaccurately reporting the data, they will audit the officer’s daily reports.

Lt. Mike Morenko, commander of the Richmond State Police Post that covers Macomb and St. Clair counties, concedes that recording the race of all motorists stopped will be “somewhat cumbersome.”

“I don’t believe that racial profiling has ever been a problem at the state police, so anything we can do to maintain public confidence is fine,” said Morenko, a 27-year-veteran of the force who spent 15 years patroling highways in southeast Michigan.

The plan sidesteps a few potential problems: Troopers won’t ask people to identify their race. Instead, they will make their best guess.

“We didn’t want to put people in an uncomfortable position,” said Shepard.

Troopers will note the race in daily activity reports that get recorded in a computer database, but won’t mark the race on tickets — though a box to do so is on tickets, and some local departments may continue to use it.

The new monitoring also will focus on vehicle searches, noting whether such checks were consensual or based on probable cause. State police plan to compile a report after the first three months.

In April, a statewide conference in southeast Michigan will bring together top law enforcers, civil rights advocates and community leaders. The conference comes the same month as a state law that will let police stop a driver solely for not wearing a seat belt; under current law, motorists can’t be stopped unless they are committing another infraction. Some groups are concerned because a 1996 national survey showed only 58 percent of minorities wear seat belts.

The National Conference for Community and Justice, a civil rights group that’s an organizer of the April conference, praised the data collection plans — and said racial profiling is widespread in Metro Detroit.

“This is a serious problem that has gone on for too long,” said Daedra A. McGhee, the group’s regional director in Detroit. “But we’ve seen a wonderful first step, with law enforcement sitting down with community groups like ours and asking our opinions.”

The newpaper reported that the Ohio Highway Patrol has been keeping racial data on traffic stops since 1998, said Lt. John Born, on the nearly 900,000 tickets its troopers write annually — among the most in the nation. The force plans to announce new monitoring plans in January.

“This is about keeping the public’s confidence in our integrity,” said Born, noting that no trooper has been disciplined for racial profiling since the scrutiny began.

Florida also plans to collect data. State police commanders asked legislators for money to pay for computers to keep track of the data. New York State has contacted Michigan for more details about its program, which has cost less than $50,000 to date, Shepard said.

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