Washington will spend $50,000 to study possible biases in the Washington State Patrol after an investigation found troopers search people of color, particularly American Indians, at much higher rates than they search white drivers.
Troopers were more likely to find drugs or weapons in the possession of white drivers when searched even though American Indian, Pacific Islander, black and Latino drivers were searched at higher rates, according to data from 2009 and 2015 analyzed by Investigate West, a nonprofit news organization in Seattle.
Most of these searches happened near the Colville and Yakama reservations on exit points onto highways, according to the report.
This kind of profiling creates distrust between officials and people of color, said Carol Evans, chairwoman for the Spokane Tribal Council. There have been times when the state patrol or other officers have sat at the border of the reservation and it’s not clear whether they’re there for security reasons or not, she added.
“I just think of my father, he was a Native American, he was elderly,” she said, “He never got stopped by a patrol but I would think that if he did maybe the officer would take him in just because of the way he communicates.”
Evans said her father would have questioned troopers if they had stopped him for no reason, instead of stopping someone who had violated a law. State troopers and police officers need to understand the different ways people communicate depending on their culture, she added.
“People should be treated with respect and should not be treated differently based on the color of their skin,” she said. “They’re there to protect all of us.”
The state patrol will work with Washington State University researchers who will analyze agency data for any evidence of implicit bias in traffic stops and searches. They will also show how tribal members and others perceive the patrol. The report to the Legislature is due Dec. 31.
The state patrol provides a one-hour implicit bias training for cadets, but doesn’t participate in the 16-hour training provided by the Criminal Justice Training Commission, according to records requested by InvestigateWest.
Some districts require their troopers to participate in a full-day implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training once a year, so the patrol is working to make sure that is happening in all the districts, said Chris Loftis, patrol director of communications.
“We’re not condoning any sort of bias out there, we’re actively working to wring that out of our system anywhere we can,” he said.
“If there are any issues the state patrol can’t fix internally then we will work on legislation to fix it,” said Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, who requested the money for the study.
The Legislature also approved $150,000 in the transportation budget to help the state patrol have a more diverse workforce. The money will also help address the shortage of state troopers, said Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens.
The patrol is required to work with other state agencies to develop a diverse workforce action plan and address reasons for underrepresentation of people of color in its workforce. It is required to submit a plan to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2021.
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