A study found no evidence drivers of color are being targeted when it comes to police stops in the area, but data indicates they are more likely to get a ticket or arrested, according to a new report.
The 11-month study shows results for area police departments match data for departments across Massachusetts.
The study, contained in a 415-page report by the state Department of Public Safety and Security, looked at state police and local departments who made 100 or more traffic stops from February to December 2020.
All 10 communities in The Sun Chronicle readership area were among about 280 law enforcement agencies included in the study out of 350 in the commonwealth.
According to the report, most area departments stopped nonwhite drivers at below the state average.
Overall, white drivers accounted for 65% of traffic stops, Black drivers made up about 16% and about 15% were Hispanic. About 4% were either Asian, Asian Pacific, American Indian, Middle Eastern or Pacific Islander.
Similar to the overall statewide data, area police issued fewer warnings to Black and Hispanic drivers. They were more often issued traffic tickets, criminal summonses or arrested.
For instance, of the total stops made by Attleboro police, 2.7% of arrests were of Blacks, 4.4% Hispanics and 1% whites.
“There are not any surprises,” Attleboro Police Chief Kyle Heagney said of the results for his department.
Heagney said he regularly reviews data on traffic stops with Anthony Stevens, the department’s crime analyst.
In Attleboro, police stopped 1,046 vehicles during the study period. White drivers accounted for 75% of the stops, Blacks were 14.1%, Hispanics were 8.7 % with other races 2.3%. Of those drivers, 62.5% were male and 37.4% were female.
Contrary to the statewide data, which found that the vehicles of nonwhites were searched more often, only the vehicles of four white drivers were searched in Attleboro, according to the study.
As for other area communities:
- In North Attleboro, police made 603 traffic stops. Blacks accounted for 7.3%, Hispanic, 9.5% and whites 79.4%. The stops resulted in only two vehicle searches, both driven by whites.
- Foxboro police conducted 1,108 traffic stops with Blacks accounting for 9.3%, Hispanics, 4% and whites, 83.2%. There were only two vehicle searches, both involving white drivers.
- In Mansfield, police stopped 1,397 vehicles. Black drivers accounted for 8.8%, Hispanics, 4.3% and whites, 81.6 %. There were five vehicle searches involving four white drivers and one nonwhite driver.
- Norton police stopped 583 drivers. Of those, 6.7% were Black, 3.4% were Hispanic and 88.6% were white. Police searched the vehicles of three white drivers and one nonwhite driver.
- In Plainville, 152 vehicles were stopped by police. Of those, 9.5% of the drivers were Black, 10.2% were Hispanic and 74.8% were white. Only one vehicle driven by a nonwhite driver was searched.
- In Rehoboth, police stopped 638 vehicles. Of those, 9.6% were Black drivers, 1.8% were Hispanic and 87.5% were white. The vehicles of two nonwhite drivers and one white driver were searched.
- Seekonk police stopped 786 vehicles of which 16.3% were driven by Black drivers, 5.6% were Hispanic and 77.3% were white. Of six vehicle searches, four were nonwhite drivers and two were white.
- In Wrentham, 562 vehicles were stopped. Of those 6.4% of the drivers were Black, 5.3% were Hispanic and 87.1% were white. Five cars were searched with four driven by whites and one by a nonwhite.
- In Norfolk, police stopped 449 vehicles with 8.9% driven by Blacks, 12.4% by Hispanics and 75.7% by whites. The two vehicles searched were driven by whites.
The data were collected by police as part of a requirement of the state’s hands-free driving law passed in 2019 and sent to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The data will be reviewed annually for analysis for a public report on police traffic stops across the state..
“It’s not a perfect study,” Heagney said. “However, it’s a good starting point and I think it’s necessary.”
Heagney and Stevens said knowing the reasons for the traffic stops could help explain the data. A driver could be arrested as a result of an outstanding warrant, drunken driving or other reasons. The vehicle could have been stopped because a routine check of the license plate revealed a driver with a suspended license, they said.
Heagney said he would like to see the state require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to include racial data on driver’s licenses so police officers are not left with the responsibility.
The data was provided to researchers from Salem State University and Worcester State University. They called the method used to analyze it the “Veil of Darkness,” which compares stops made in darkness to those made in daylight. The analysis is based on the logic that police officers are less likely to be able to determine a driver’s race at night than during the day, according to statement released with the study.
Although the study found white drivers were most often stopped during the day, it revealed that troopers from the state police barracks in Foxboro, as well as police in Hadley and Ludlow, stopped drivers of color at a higher rate during the day than at night.
In response, David Procopio, a spokesman for the state police said, “We remain committed to upholding the constitutional and civil rights of all citizens, which includes enforcing roadway safety without bias.”
He said the baseline analysis of state police enforcement data “overwhelmingly” found no patterns of racial disparity in nearly all 50 state police barracks and units.
“The single finding of statistical significance at state police-Foxboro provides insight that will help the department continue to monitor for patterns of bias. We recognize that data analysis is another important tool to help ensure our existing policies and procedures deliver impartial policing services, and we look forward to future comparison studies,” Procopio said in an email.
He also referred to a statement from one of the researchers, Gina Curcio of Salem State University, who said, “This baseline research should serve as a starting point for deeper understanding, continued discussions and further reflection.”
“We caution that our findings do not confirm racial profiling and any incidents of statistical significance could have a variety of explanations other than officer bias,” Curcio said in a statement released with the study on Monday.
Procopio added that state police have longstanding departmental policies governing citations and bias-free policing. He said troopers record the race of every motorist stopped for every offense, and those statistics are reviewed by supervisors several times a year to ensure that no unusual patterns are present.
State police made 40 percent of the traffic stops and local departments made 60 percent for a total of 425,702, according to a statement released with the study.
In a statement about the study, Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the data “affirms the importance of transparency in policing, and raises additional questions about the role motorist race and ethnicity plays in policing on our roads.”
“The report finds, for example, that Black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to be searched, criminally cited or arrested after being stopped. Data like this is crucial for understanding police practices in Massachusetts, and where reforms and further data collection may be necessary,” Rose said.
The department of public safety and security will host three virtual public hearings to discuss the analysis and take public testimony on the report. Those hearings are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 28; 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. March 1, and 1 to 3 p.m. March 2.
David Linton may be reached at 508-236-0338.