Washington state troopers treat motorists of all races equally, according to a two-year independent study released Tuesday by Washington State University researchers.
The study examined whether troopers with the Washington State Patrol are more likely to stop, cite or search the vehicles of minority drivers.
Researchers compared data dating from November 2002 to June 2004 to bench marks such as population statistics, daytime versus night stops, stops due to radar and plane patrols, and accident rates in which race can’t be observed, aiming to reveal whether troopers were more likely to stop minority drivers than white drivers when race could be seen.
“There is no evidence to suggest there is a problem with systemic racial profiling with regards to the State Patrol in this state,” said Clayton Mosher, WSU associate professor of sociology.
The data isn’t reliable enough to reach definitive conclusions when it comes to searches, said Mosher.
Although the WSP was found not to systemically racially profile drivers, problems were revealed in some specific areas.
Northwest Washington troopers were more likely to cite Asian drivers than whites.
Mosher attributed that in part to high numbers of Asian Canadians traveling across the border and the tendency for troopers to be more likely to ticket those from outside the state than Washington residents.
Mosher also said that higher citation rates in some cases could be caused by some minority groups’ decreased likelihood to comply with traffic laws.
“The Washington State Patrol is a national leader in studying the issue of racial profiling,” said Nicholas Lovrich, director of WSU’s division of governmental studies and services.
Researchers also investigated claims that state troopers were distorting the data by checking off “white” for traffic stops involving minority drivers. After comparing racial data to Washington State Department of Licensing photos of the drivers involved, WSU researchers determined such data manipulation isn’t occurring.
This is the third phase of WSU’s study. The next phase will look into how troopers use force.
“Biased policing is a leading issue facing law enforcement agencies today,” said WSP Chief John Batiste.
Not everyone at Tuesday’s press conference on the report was convinced by WSU’s findings.
V. Anne Smith, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP said the NAACP was the first organization to nationally push this issue and that it will continue to fight racial profiling.
“There is still systemic problems, and there will probably always be because of individual bias,” Smith said.
WSU’s own surveying found that minority Washington residents were more likely to believe that the WSP uses racial profiling than white residents.
“We have to find a way to overcome that,” said Batiste.
Smith did commend law enforcement, however, for taking the issue seriously enough to study it.
“They get an E for effort,” said Smith.
Smith also praised Spokane police for working to turn around their reputation for using racial profiling.
Since she took charge of the local NAACP, Smith said she’s met numerous times with Spokane police to discuss the issue.
“We’re seeing some positive results,” Smith said.
The Spokane Police Department has been collecting its own data on whether race or ethnicity play a part in how officers respond to traffic stops and other incidents in the city, said Police Chief Roger Bragdon.
Studying how city police interact with minorities is more complicated than analyzing the WSP because Spokane police are involved in more than traffic stops. They also contend with everything from domestic violence to citizen reports of suspicious people, Bragdon said.
But with Spokane’s current budget woes, the $60,000-plus needed to analyze the data isn’t available right now, he said, although he’ll be meeting with Lovrich to discuss less expensive ways to complete Spokane’s study.
Even more valuable than data, though, is communication with minority members of the community, Bragdon said.
“We have met with the minority group leaders so much over the last three years that they helped us write the policies,” he said. “It’s the actual relationships and partnerships that are the most important.”
The WSP has also tried to build relationships with minority communities, in particular Washington’s Hispanic residents through Spanish-language programs and brochures.
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